Updated: Dec 13, 2021
Rohingya refugees in the UK and US have sued Facebook, accusing the social media giant of allowing hate speech against them to spread.
The claimants say that Facebook’s ''negligence" facilitated the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar'.
An estimated 10,000 Rohingya Muslims were killed during a military crackdown in Buddhist-majority Myanmar in 2017.
Facebook, owned by Meta, is facing compensation claims worth more than £150bn.
In the UK, a British law firm representing some of the refugees has written a letter to Facebook, saying that Facebook's algorithms "amplified hate speech against the Rohingya people", the company "failed to invest" in moderators and fact checkers who knew about the political situation in Myanmar and that the organisation failed to take down posts or delete accounts that incited violence against Rohingya.
The US complaint cites Facebook posts that appeared in a Reuters report, with one in 2013 stating: “We must fight them the way Hitler did the Jews, damn Kalars [a derogatory term for Rohingya people].” Another post in 2018, showing a photograph of a boatload of Rohingya refugees, says: “Pour fuel and set fire so that they can meet Allah faster.”
Facebook admitted in 2018 that it had not done enough to prevent the incitement of violence and hate speech against the Rohingya, the Muslim minority in Myanmar. An independent report commissioned by the company found that “Facebook has become a means for those seeking to spread hate and cause harm, and posts have been linked to offline violence”.
The McCue letter says: “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.”
About 1 million Rohingyas live in Cox’s Bazar refugee camp, in south-eastern Bangladesh, where McCue and Mishcon de Reya, which is also working on the UK-based case, expect to recruit more claimants.
The UK case has about 20 claimants so far, while in the US the class action suit hopes to act on behalf of an estimated 10,000 Rohingya in the country.
Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower has alleged the platform is "fanning ethnic violence" in countries including Ethiopia and is not doing enough to stop it. She said 87% of the spending on combating misinformation at Facebook is spent on English content, while only 9% of users are English speakers.
Responding to Haugen’s revelations, Facebook has said it had a “comprehensive strategy” in place for countries at risk of conflict and violence, including use of native speakers and third-party fact checkers.
A Meta spokesperson said that the organisation is appalled by the crimes committed against the Rohingya people in Myanmar.
They said the company had built a team of Burmese speakers, banned Myanmar's military and "taken action on harmful misinformation to help keep people safe". Adding that they had also
invested in Burmese-language technology to reduce the prevalence of violating content.