Dozens of Rohingya refugees in the UK and US have sued Facebook, accusing the social media giant of allowing hate speech against them to spread.
They are demanding more than $150 billion in compensation, claiming Facebook’s platforms promoted violence against the persecuted minority.
An estimated 10,000 Rohingya Muslims were killed during a military crackdown in Buddhist-majority Myanmar in 2017.
The company is accused of allowing “the dissemination of hateful and dangerous misinformation to continue for years”.
In the UK, a British law firm representing some of the refugees has written a letter to Facebook alleging: Its algorithms “amplified hate speech against the Rohingya people”; “failed to invest” in moderators and fact checkers; failed to take down posts or delete accounts that incited violence against Rohingya and failed to “take appropriate and timely action” despite warnings from charities and the media.
In the US, lawyers filed a legal complaint against Facebook in San Francisco, accusing it of being “willing to trade the lives of the Rohingya people for better market penetration in a small country in Southeast Asia.”
Facebook has more than 20 million users in Myanmar. For many, the social media site is their main or only way of getting and sharing news.
Facebook admitted in 2018 that it had not done enough to prevent the incitement of violence and hate speech against the Rohingya.
This followed an independent report, commissioned by Facebook, that said the platform had created an “enabling environment” for the proliferation of human rights abuse.
The Rohingya are seen as illegal migrants in Myanmar and have been discriminated against by the government and public for decades.
In 2017, the Myanmar military launched a violent crackdown in Rakhine state after Rohingya militants carried out deadly attacks on police posts.
Thousands of people died and more than 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh. There are also widespread allegations of human rights abuses, including arbitrary killing, rape and burning of land.
In 2018, the UN accused Facebook of being “slow and ineffective” in its response to the spread of hatred online.
Under US law, Facebook is largely protected from liability over content posted by its users.