Myanmar Rohingya refugees have filed a $150 billion lawsuit against Meta Platforms, formerly known as Facebook, alleging that the social media firm failed to take action against anti-Rohingya hate speech that contributed to the bloodshed.
A class-action lawsuit filed in California on Monday by law firms Edelson PC and Fields claims that the company's failings to control content and the design of its platform contributed to the real-world violence experienced by the Rohingya community.
British lawyers also sent a letter of notice to Facebook's London office as part of a coordinated operation.
Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the complaint from a major newswire. The firm has stated that it was "too slow to prevent misinformation and hate" in Myanmar and has since taken steps to crack down on platform abuses in the region, including barring the military from Facebook and Instagram following the February 1 coup.
Facebook has stated that it is immune from liability for user-uploaded content under Section 230 of the United States Internet Law, which states that online platforms are not accountable for content submitted by third parties. If Section 230 is claimed as a defense, the lawsuit states that it intends to apply Myanmar law to the claims.
Although US courts can apply foreign law in cases where the alleged harms and company activity occurred in other countries, two legal experts that were interviewed said they were unaware of any successful precedent for foreign law being invoked in lawsuits against social media companies where Section 230 protections could apply.
According to Anupam Chander, a Legal Scholar at Georgetown University, Mentioning Myanmar Law Is Not "inappropriate." However, He Predicted that "it's Unlikely to Be Successful," Stating that "it Would Be Odd for Congress to Have Foreclosed Actions Under U.S. Law but Permitted Them to Proceed Under Foreign Law."
In August 2017, more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims left Myanmar's Rakhine state following a military campaign that refugees said included mass executions and rape. Civilians were killed and villages were burned, according to rights groups.
Myanmar's government claims to be fighting an insurgency and denies committing systematic killings.
A spokeswoman for Myanmar's ruling junta did not respond to calls seeking comment on the legal action against Facebook.
According to U.N. human rights investigators, the use of Facebook played a crucial role in propagating hate speech that sparked the violence in 2018. An investigation that year, cited in the US complaint, discovered over 1,000 examples of posts, comments, and photographs on Facebook denigrating the Rohingya and other Muslims.
The International Criminal Court has begun an investigation into the allegations of crimes committed in the region. In September, a federal judge in the United States ordered Facebook to turn over documents related to anti-Rohingya violence in Myanmar that the social media company had locked down.
The latest class-action lawsuit cites assertions made by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who revealed a cache of internal documents this year, that the corporation does not control abusive behavior in nations where it is most likely to cause harm.
The complaint also cites recent media reports, notably an investigation last month, suggesting Myanmar's military was using bogus social media profiles to participate in "information combat." as it is known in the military.
According to Mohammed Taher, a refugee residing in the enormous Bangladesh camps that house over a million Rohingya, Facebook was frequently used to propagate anti-Rohingya propaganda. "We welcome the move," he remarked over the phone.