Meta sued for billions of dollars for not allegedly removing anti-Rohingya hate speech during 2017 violence in Myanmar (Burma)
Meta is facing more legal headaches after dozens of Rohingya refugees in the UK and US sued Meta’s Facebook division in a co-ordinated strike.
According to Reuters, law firms Edelson PC and Fields PLLC filed a class-action complaint in California on Monday, alleging that the social networking giant did not take action against anti-Rohingya hate speech that contributed to violence.
British lawyers also submitted a letter of notice to Facebook’s London office. The refugees are seeking $150 billion in damages.
The lawsuit stems from the violence in Myanmar’s (formerly Burma) Rakhine state in August 2017, where more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled after a military crackdown that refugees said included mass killings and rape.
Rights groups at the time documented killings of civilians and burning of villages.
Myanmar authorities denied carrying out atrocities, and said they were battling an insurgency.
However Reuters said the compliant filed by Edelson PC and Fields PLLC, argues Facebook’s failures to police content and its platform’s design contributed to real-world violence faced by the Rohingya community.
In 2018, UN human rights investigators alleged the use of Facebook had played a key role in spreading hate speech that fuelled the violence.
Meta in 2018 admitted it had not done enough, and reportedly said it was “too slow to prevent misinformation and hate” in Myanmar and has said it has since taken steps to crack down on platform abuses in the region, including banning the military from Facebook and Instagram after the 1 February 2021 coup.
Facebook did not respond to a Reuters request for comment about the lawsuit.
A Reuters investigation, cited in the US complaint, found more than 1,000 examples of posts, comments and images attacking the Rohingya and other Muslims on Facebook.
Almost all were in the main local language, Burmese, and included posts calling the Rohingya or other Muslims dogs, maggots and rapists.
Some posts reportedly suggested they be fed to pigs, and urged they be shot or exterminated.
The court case, aside from the huge amount of money the claimants are seeking, is a noteworthy challenge, as it could see a test for the US Section 230 protection laws.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act gives firms such Facebook and Twitter, immunity from liability over content posted by users.
Essentially it stops tech firms from being held liable for the content and opinions expressed online by its users.
It should be noted that the Section 230 legislation has already been defended by Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg, and Sundar Pichai when they appeared before a US Senate panel in October 2020.
The complaint filed against Meta says it seeks to apply Myanmar law to the claims, if Section 230 is raised as a defense.
According to Reuters, US Courts can apply foreign law to cases where the alleged harms and activity by companies took place in other countries.
The Justice Department is still said to be formulating proposed changes to the legislation, after a very public clash between former US President Donald Trump and social networking firms.