In a world first, Rohingya refugees are suing Facebook for $150 billion over allegations the social media giant did not take action against inflammatory hate speech that led to violence against them. They say that negligence, and the algorithms that power Facebook, promoted disinformation that translated into real-world violence.
This week, in a coordinated legal action in the US and the UK, the class action lawsuit said: “Facebook was willing to trade the lives of the Rohingya people for better market penetration in a small country in South-East Asia.” Facebook’s parent company Meta the next day said it was expanding a ban on posts from Myanmar’s military to include all pages, groups, and accounts representing military-controlled businesses.
The lawsuit includes statements made by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen in a testimony to the US Congress earlier this year, in which she said there were inadequate language skills at the company, and too few efforts were made to take down misinformation. A 2018 UN report found Facebook played “a determining role” in disseminating hateful rhetoric in Myanmar.
More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017 after a military crackdown the UN says was marked by mass killings, widespread rape and the destruction of entire villages – actions that could amount to genocide. Myanmar authorities say they were battling an insurgency, and deny carrying out the atrocities.
In this episode, we’ll look at the potential impact of the groundbreaking lawsuit on Myanmar and elsewhere.
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