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 (£ 113 billion) in compensation, claiming Facebook’s platforms have promoted violence against the persecuted minority.
An estimated 10,000 Rohingya Muslims were killed during a military crackdown in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar in 2017.
Facebook, now called Meta, did not immediately respond to the allegations.
The company is accused of “continuing to disseminate hateful and dangerous information for years”.
In the UK, a British law firm representing some of the refugees wrote a letter to Facebook, seen by the BBC, in which it states:
- Facebook algorithms “amplified hate speech against the Rohingya people”
- The company “failed to invest” in moderators and fact checks who knew the political situation in Myanmar
- The company failed to remove posts or delete accounts inciting violence against the Rohingya
- It failed to “take timely and appropriate action,” despite warnings from charities and the media
In the United States, lawyers have 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 Southeast Asian country”.
They cite Facebook posts that appeared in a Reuters news agency investigation, including one in 2013 stating: “We have to fight them like Hitler did the Jews.”
Another post said, “Pour fuel and set fire so they can meet Allah faster.”
Facebook has more than 20 million users in Myanmar. For many, the social media site is the primary or only way to get and share news.
Facebook admitted in 2018 that it had not done enough to prevent incitement to violence and hate speech against the Rohingya.
This followed an independent report, commissioned by Facebook, which claimed that the platform had created a “favorable environment” for the proliferation of human rights abuses.
Rohingya are seen as illegal migrants in Myanmar and have been discriminated against by the government and public opinion for decades.
In 2017, the Myanmar army launched a violent crackdown in Rakhine state after Rohingya militants carried out deadly attacks on police posts.
- What you need to know about the Rohingya crisis
- The country where Facebook posts sparked hatred
Thousands of people have died and more than 700,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh. There are also widespread allegations of human rights violations, including arbitrary killings, rape and land fires.
In 2018, the United Nations accused Facebook of being “slow and ineffective” in its response to the spread of hate online.
Under US law, Facebook is largely protected from liability over content posted by its users. But the new lawsuit argues that Myanmar law – which has no such protections – should prevail in the case.
The BBC asked Meta for a comment.
- Social media
- Hate speech
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