Rohingya refugees, a Muslim ethnic minority who fled persecution in Burma, have sued Meta Platforms Inc, formerly known as Facebook, for $ 150 billion (132 billion euros). They accuse the social network of not having taken action against hate speech against them. A class action lawsuit was filed Monday, December 6 in California, where Facebook is headquartered, by law firms Edelson PC and Fields PLLC. As part of a coordinated action, UK lawyers also sent a notification letter to Facebook’s London office.
Most Rohingya took refuge in Bangladesh from 2017 after fleeing a violent campaign of repression in Burma, a predominantly Buddhist country, where they are considered illegal even though they have often been there for generations.
The complaint claims that the algorithms used by the tech giant have fostered disinformation and extremist ideologies, which have resulted in violent acts in the real world. “Facebook is like a robot programmed with a single mission: to develop”, write the complainants. “The undeniable reality is that the growth of Facebook, fueled by hatred, division and disinformation, has left in its wake hundreds of thousands of Rohingya lives devastated.”, continues the document consulted by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Facebook is taking action
The collective complaint filed on Monday in San Francisco claims that Facebook’s algorithms are pushing certain user profiles towards even more extremist groups than they already are, an ideal situation for “Autocratic rulers and regimes”.
In 2018, Facebook had admitted that its network had been used to stir up violence in Burma and subsequently announced measures against the Burmese junta’s “calls to hatred”. In September, a US federal judge ordered Facebook to publish the archives of these accounts linked to the abuses of the Burmese army and Buddhist militias against the Muslim minority.
Refusing to return to Burma until they are guaranteed security and equal rights, the refugees survive in makeshift huts and unsanitary conditions. Many Rohingya who remained in Burma do not enjoy citizenship there and face community violence and discrimination from the ruling junta. The Rohingya remaining in Burma live under the threat of a “Genocide”, alerted investigators from the United Nations (UN) in 2019, asking that those responsible be brought before the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Human rights organizations have long criticized Facebook for not being sufficiently involved in the fight against disinformation and false information. Some critics assure that even when the platform is alerted to hateful content, it does not act, which they say leads to the persecution of minorities and can even affect the outcome of some elections.
Frances Haugen, a whistleblower who slammed Facebook’s door in May and denounces the practices of her former employer, told Congress that the network, whose parent company was recently renamed Meta, was stoking the “Ethnic violence” in some countries.
Under US law, Facebook is unlikely to be held responsible for messages posted by its users. To get around this legal pitfall, the Rohingya complaint highlights the fact that Burmese law, which offers no such protection, should take precedence. Contacted by AFP, Facebook had not reacted Monday evening to the announcement of the complaint.
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Rohingya refugees sue Facebook