On Monday, December 6, Rohingya Muslim survivors filed a class-action lawsuit against Facebook, now rebranded as Meta. The cases, filed first in the US and then in the UK, alleged Facebook's platform allowed and intensified hate speech against the Rohingya in Myanmar.
"The undeniable reality is that Facebook's growth, fuelled by hate, division, and misinformation, has left hundreds of thousands of devastated Rohingya lives in its wake," the lawsuit filed in California stated.
The Rohingya survivors, through their lawyers, are demanding "compensatory damages, over €150 billion, in addition to punitive damages."
The lawsuit filed by the survivors in the UK accuses Facebook of "amplifying hate speech against the Rohingya people." The social media giant was also charged with failing to "take appropriate and timely action," despite knowledge of how their platform is being used in Myanmar.
A website set up for the lawsuits said the UK legal claims would be for those who live anywhere in the world, except the US, while a separate legal claim will be for those who are residents of the US.
James Clayton, North America Tech Report for the BBC, said the lawsuits are particularly interesting because "Facebook isn't denying that it could have done more."
In 2018, Facebook conducted an internal investigation for their Myanmar platform. Facebook concluded that it failed to prevent the circulation of hate speech and incitement of violence against the Rohingya. "Facebook has become a means for those seeking to spread hate and cause harm, and posts have been linked to offline violence," the internal investigation reported.
In September this year, a US judge ordered Facebook to release archived posts that portrayed Rohingyas in "sub-human terms" and posts that called for military action. A Facebook spokesperson said they are "appalled by the atrocities committed against the Rohingya people in Myanmar and support justice for international crimes." Despite their comment, Facebook resisted releasing the documents.
Clayton added that Facebook did not invest in moderation content in Burmese and Rakhine. Facebook also knew that it was directly responsible for fueling ethnic tensions that resulted in real-life violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar. "Whether or not that means they are legally culpable is a very different question, though," Clayton added.
Josh Davis, professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law, said the class-action lawsuit, especially the one filed in California, will have to overcome many hurdles. The lawyers representing Rohingya residents in the US will need to prove common issues experienced by the plaintiffs. "It's hard to prove that Facebook's conduct harmed individual class members," Davis added.