Myanmar’s Rohingya community sue Facebook for failing to stem hate speech

Dec 7, 2021: Myanmar’s Rohingya refugees have filed a $150 billion lawsuit against social media company Facebook alleging that the social network was failing to stop hate speech on its platform, fueling violence against Myanmar’s weak minority. 

A lawsuit filed in a California court alleges that algorithms that empower a US-based company promote misinformation and extreme thinking that can lead to real-world violence.

“Facebook is like a robot programmed with a single mission: to grow,” the court document said.

“The undeniable fact is that the development of Facebook due to hatred, division and misinformation has resulted in the loss of millions of lives of Rohingya.”

Mainly Muslim groups face widespread discrimination in Myanmar, where they have been despised for fighting despite being in the country for generations.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya were deported across the border into Bangladesh in 2017, where they are living in scattered refugee camps, in a military-backed campaign that the United Nations says amounts to genocide. Many others live in Myanmar, where they are denied citizenship and are subject to sectarian violence as well as government discrimination by the military, which seized power in February.

The lawsuit alleges that Facebook’s algorithms force sensitive users to join as many extreme groups as possible, a situation that is “open to the exploitation of dictatorial politicians and governments.”

However, UN human rights investigators also say that the use of Facebook played a key role in spreading hate speech, which led to violence. A Reuters investigation this year, citing a U.S. complaint, found more than 1,000 instances of posts, comments and photos attacking Rohingya and other Muslims on Facebook.

The International Criminal Court has opened a case for criminal charges in the region. In September, a U.S. federal judge ordered Facebook to release records of accounts linked to anti-Rohingya violence in Myanmar, which was shut down by a major social media company.

Facebook had earlier promised to step up its efforts against hate speech in Myanmar, hiring dozens of native speakers. But rights groups have long accused the social media giant of not doing enough to stop the spread of misinformation and misinformation online.

Critics say that when hate speech is reported on its platform, the company fails to act. They allege that the social media giant allows lies to spread, affects the lives of minorities and thwarts elections in democracies like the United States, where baseless allegations of fraud circulate among like-minded friends.

Facebook has not yet responded to a complaint filed against the company. This year, a massive leak from a company’s insiders spawned articles in which Facebook, whose parent company is now called Meta, knew its sites could hurt its billions of users – but executives chose growth over security.

Ex Facebook employee, whistleblower Frances Haugen told the US Congress in October that Facebook was “inciting racial violence” in some countries. Under U.S. law, Facebook is largely immune from liability for content posted by its users. The Rohingya case, in anticipation of this defense, argues that where applicable, Myanmar law – which has no such protection – should prevail in the case.

Facebook is under pressure to control misinformation in the United States and Europe, especially elections and the COVID-19 pandemic. The company has partnered with several media companies, including Agence France-Presse News Agency, to verify and remove online posts that are inaccurate.

But despite the partnership, hate speech and misinformation continue to spread on the site.

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