Rohingya refugees sue Facebook for $ 150 billion over Myanmar violence

December 6 (Reuters) – Rohingya refugees from Myanmar sue Meta Platforms Inc (FB.O), formerly known as Facebook, for $ 150 billion over allegations the social media company failed to take measures against anti-Rohingya hate speech which contributed to the violence.

A class-action lawsuit in the United States, filed in California on Monday by law firms Edelson PC and Fields PLLC, argues that the company’s failures to control the content and design of its platform have contributed to the real violence facing the Rohingya community.

In coordinated action, UK lawyers also submitted a letter of formal notice to Facebook’s London office.

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Facebook did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the lawsuit. The company said it was “too slow to prevent disinformation and hatred” in Myanmar and said it has since taken steps to crack down on platform abuse in the region, including banning the military. Facebook and Instagram after the February 1 coup.

Facebook has stated that it is protected from liability for content posted by users by a U.S. internet law known as Section 230, which states that online platforms are not responsible for content posted by third parties. The complaint says it seeks to apply Myanmar law to claims if Section 230 is invoked as a defense.

While U.S. courts may apply foreign law to cases where the alleged harm and activities of companies have taken place in other countries, two legal experts interviewed by Reuters said they did not know of a successful precedent for foreign law. invoked in lawsuits against social media companies where Section 230 protections may apply.

Anupam Chander, professor at Georgetown University Law Center, said invoking Myanmar law was not “inappropriate”. But he predicted that “this is unlikely to be successful,” saying “it would be strange if Congress banned actions under US law but allowed them to proceed under foreign law.” .

The Facebook logo is displayed on a mobile phone in this photo illustration taken on December 2, 2019. REUTERS / Johanna Geron / Illustration / File Photo

More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017 after a military crackdown that the refugees said included massacres and rapes. Rights groups have documented killings of civilians and the burning of villages.

The Burmese authorities say they are fighting an insurgency and deny having committed systematic atrocities.

A spokesman for the Burmese junta did not respond to Reuters phone calls seeking comment on the lawsuit against Facebook.

In 2018, United Nations human rights investigators said the use of Facebook played a key role in the spread of hate speech that fueled the violence. A Reuters investigation that year, cited in the US complaint, found more than 1,000 examples of posts, comments and images attacking Rohingya and other Muslims on Facebook.

The International Criminal Court has opened an investigation into charges of crimes in the region. In September, a U.S. federal judge ordered Facebook to release the tapes of accounts linked to anti-Rohingya violence in Myanmar that the social media giant had shut down.

The new class action lawsuit refers to claims by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who disclosed a cache of internal documents this year, that the company does not monitor abusive content in countries where such speech is likely to cause the most wrong.

The complaint also cites recent media information, including a Reuters report last month, that the Myanmar military was using fake social media accounts to engage in what is widely referred to as the military. an “information fight”.

Mohammed Taher, a refugee living in Bangladesh’s sprawling camps that are home to more than one million Rohingya, said Facebook has been widely used to spread anti-Rohingya propaganda. “We welcome the move,” he said by phone.

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Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in New York. Additional reporting by Poppy McPherson and Ruma Paul. Editing by Gerry Doyle and Nick Macfie

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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