Facebook is at the heart of a 150 billion lawsuit for its role in the Rohingya genocide

Is Facebook responsible for the hate speech that abounds on its platform? This is the question raised by a complaint filed by Rohingya refugees, who wants the platform to recognize its involvement in the Burmese genocide.

It is a trial that risks marking the history of Facebook. On December 6, 2021, a class action lawsuit targeting the social network, and its parent company Meta, was filed in the United Kingdom and the United States. The case is brought by Rohingya refugees, who accuse the site of having participated in the persecutions that took place in Burma. The suspects are demanding 150 billion dollars (about 133 billion euros) in reparations.

Fake news and hate speech on Facebook

The 71-page document paints a tragic portrait of Facebook and its involvement in the Rohingya genocide. The platform is accused of having facilitated the development of hate speech against certain populations, of never having taken the problem of moderation seriously and of having allowed violent speech and death threats to proliferate on its platform. , despite numerous reports.

Myanmar’s military, and its civilian conspirators, now armed with Facebook to organize and spread terror, have stepped up their brutal repression, engaging in acts of ethnic cleansing that defy belief. “says the complaint by way of introduction. According to the document, Facebook “allowed the spread of hateful and dangerous misinformation for years, long after he was repeatedly pointed out the horrific and deadly consequences of his inaction.»

Facebook does not deny responsibility

This is far from the first time that Facebook’s role in the Rohingya genocide has been questioned. Already in 2017, many NGOs pointed out the danger that the publication of certain hate speech on Facebook could represent. A United Nations spokesperson even said that the site had played a role “determiningin genocide. The case took on such proportions that even Facebook was forced to react.

After an independent review of the situation, Facebook concluded in a 2018 blog post that “we haven’t done enough to prevent our platform from being used to foment division and incite offline violence. We agree that we can and must do more“. In 2020, the platform announced that it would work with the United Nations to collect evidence of abuses committed in Burma.

Recent statements by ex-Facebook employees to the Washington Post have also been filed. “The company had known for years that Rohingyas were being targeted on Facebook[…] I myself, while working for Facebook, participated in the genocide“, can we read in the complaint.

An uncertain outcome

While the 71-page document paints a dramatic picture of Facebook’s inaction, the outcome of this lawsuit is relatively uncertain. The suitors want to propose US law and convict Facebook under Burmese law.

The famous section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects Facebook (and all web platforms) from lawsuits concerning content published on its site. Protected by the status of host, Meta is not, under US law, responsible for what is published on Facebook. This is why the complaint attempts to assert the Burmese law which “fails to protect social media companies for their role in inciting violence and contributing to genocide“. But according to experts interviewed by Reuters, it is “unlikelythat the American Congress should come out in favor of such legislative gymnastics.

Either way, the case takes a very critical look at Facebook’s failings and the ineffectiveness of its moderation. The complaint also points out that “Facebook has learned nothing from the Burmese affairciting similar cases of violence in Ethiopia in particular. “Facebook has long known that hateful, outraged and politically extreme content is the lifeblood of the businesspoint out the suspects. A little refrain that we hear more and more lately.

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