Lawyers in the UK and the US on Monday initiated coordinated legal campaigns against Facebook, now known as Meta, on behalf of Rohingya Muslims for its alleged role in facilitating the genocide perpetrated by the Myanmar regime and extremist civilians against the Rohingya people.
According to the lawyers, Facebook contributed to the 2017 genocide of Rohingya Muslims by allowing hate speech against the persecuted minority to be propagated in Myanmar. The United Nations had described the violence as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
The legal claims, which are a culmination of substantial legal research and investigation, seek to go further and hold Facebook accountable before a court of law. The total value of the claims exceeds nearly $200 billion, according to a statement by the lawyers.
Facebook has admitted that it did not do enough to stop its platform from being used to create division and incite real-world violence. But, in its 2018 report, the UN described the social networking giant as a group having “an extraordinary and outsized role” in the country.
“We are seeking justice for the Rohingya people. This powerful global company must be held to account for its role in permitting the spread of hateful anti-Rohingya propaganda which directly led to unspeakable violence. Facebook turned away while genocide was being perpetrated – putting profit before the human rights of the Rohingya people,” Tun Khin, President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, in the statement.
“Big Tech needs to be held accountable for amplifying inflammatory, hateful content that can lead to real world harm. Our own research found that Facebook’s recommendation algorithm directed users in Myanmar towards content that incited violence and pushed misinformation during the early and brutal days of the military coup. Court cases like these are critically important, as is legislation to help prevent this from happening again,” added Naomi Hirst, campaign leader at Global Witness.
In his Senate testimony, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that “we need to do more”, while Adam Mosseri, a vice president of product management at Facebook stated that “we lose some sleep over this”, and a former member of Facebook’s Integrity team recently acknowledged that “I, working for Facebook, had been a party to genocide”.
However, the allegations levelled against Facebook include that the social media platform used algorithms that amplified hate speech against the Rohingya people on its platform. It failed in its policy and in practice to invest sufficiently in content moderators who spoke Burmese or Rohingya or local fact-checkers with an understanding of the political situation in Myanmar.
It also failed to take down specific posts inciting violence against or containing hate speech directed towards the Rohingya people, delete specific accounts or specific groups or pages, which were being used to propagate hate speech, and/or incite violence.
Facebook was warned from around 2013 onwards by NGOs and media about extensive anti-Rohingya posts, groups, and accounts on its platform, but they said the company failed to take appropriate and timely action.
Even now Facebook’s recommendation algorithm continues to invite users to “like” pages that share pro-military propaganda that violate the platform’s rules and associates and proxies of the Myanmar military regime are still using the Facebook platform.
In the UK, the lawyers have given Facebook formal notice of their intention to initiate proceedings on behalf of non-US resident Rohingya survivors around the world. The social media platform has been required to preserve all relevant corporate records and documentation.
A separate claim has been filed in the US on behalf of the Rohingya community who are residents in the US. The claimants in both cases will seek to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal.
Facebook was yet to comment on the legal claims.
The Rohingya people live in the far west of Myanmar and are regarded with racist contempt by many among the majority Buddhist population. In 2017 alone, more than 10,000 people were killed and over 150,000 were subject to physical violence. They continue to suffer serious psychological trauma and displacement, as the vast majority of the population were forced to flee Myanmar.
Approximately one million survivors now reside in temporary refugee camps in Bangladesh.