London — Rohingya refugees launched coordinated legal action against Facebook in the U.S. and U.K. on Monday, alleging the tech giantin Myanmar by knowingly allowing hate speech to be spread on its platform. They are seeking over $150 billion in compensation.
In 2017, thousands of Rohingya Muslims, who have been persecuted in Buddhist-majority Myanmar for decades, were killed during a military crackdown. Around 700,000 Rohingya were forced to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, and there were widespread allegations of human rights abuses, including rape and torture.
"Despite having been repeatedly alerted between 2013 and 2017 to the vast quantities of anti-Rohingya hate speech and misinformation on its system… Facebook barely reacted and devoted scant resources to addressing the issue," a complaint filed in a San Francisco court alleges. "The resulting Facebook-fueled anti-Rohingya sentiment motivated and enabled the military government of Myanmar to engage in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya," the complaint said.
Facebook had not replied to CBS News' request for comment at time of publishing.
Facebook in Myanmar
"Beginning around 2011, Facebook arranged for tens of millions of Burmese to gain access to the Internet for the first time, exclusively through Facebook," the U.S. complaint said. "This resulted in a 'crisis of digital literacy,' leaving these new users blind to the prevalence of false information online. Facebook did nothing, however, to warn its Burmese users about the dangers of misinformation and fake accounts on its system or take any steps to restrict its vicious spread," it continued.
Subsequently, anti-Rohingya misinformation and hate speech spread on the platform, with some posts calling for real-world violence. Ain Myanmar began to unfold.
In 2018, in response to widespread criticism, Facebook commissioned a report to look into hate speech against the Rohingya on its platform. The report found it had been used to "foment division and incite offline violence." The company said it agreed with the report, and that while it had made progress in tackling the issue, it said there was "more to do," according to the BBC. Facebook created new policies to deal with hate speech, including hiring more Burmese speakers and ranking "at-risk"countries that need more content moderation, the Associated Press reported.
But as of last month, anfound that hate speech against the Rohingya in Myanmar is still widespread on Facebook.
"Big Tech needs to be held accountable for amplifying inflammatory, hateful content that can lead to real world harms," Naomi Hirst, campaign leader at Global Witness, said in a statement.
"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," she said.
Lawsuits in multiple jurisdictions
Lawyers have filed a class action suit in California for damages of over $150 billion.
The U.S. case has one anonymous plaintiff, who is a Rohingya refugee living in Illinois, but who seeks to bring suit on behalf of any Rohingya refugee who settled in the United States after June 2012. That year, the plaintiff, who was 16 years old at the time according to the complaint, fled to Bangladesh on her own after reports of young girls in villages near hers being taken from their families. Her family is still in Myanmar, where, after losing their home and business, the complaint says, they still live in constant fear of attack.
In the United Kingdom, a letter was sent to Facebook to inform them that a suit will be filed against the company there. The British law firm handling the U.K. case says there will be over a dozen plaintiffs in that suit.
The U.K. action will allege that Facebook's algorithm amplified hate speech, and that the company did not invest enough in content moderators who spoke Burmese or Rohingya. It will also say that Facebook failed to remove posts and accounts that promoted hate speech.
"Despite Facebook's recognition of its culpability and its pronouncements about its role in the world, there has not been a single penny of compensation, nor any other form of reparations or support, offered to any survivor," the letter says. "This decision must have been based on the calculation that the Rohingya people, largely marginalised and living in refugee camps would struggle to find access to justice… That position is changing today."
for more features.