Myanmar has had a tumultuous history of civil unrest and cultural/religious violence, the most recent fallout of which being a military coup earlier this year. Back in 2017, after years of abuse, violence and vitriolic hatred at the hands of the Myanmar military, over 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled out of the nation into Bangladesh in the largest human exodus in Asia since the Vietnam War.
In 2018, a U.N. investigation found that Facebook had played a key role in distributing hate speech to stoke violence against the Rohingya people. Myanmar has a particularly large and active Facebook user-base, and social media platforms are known to be effective mobilising platforms for radicality and violence. Now Rohingya refugees are seeking $150 billion from Facebook and Meta, alleging that the social media goliath didn’t do enough to curb the spread of hate speech.
Two law firms, Edelson PC and Fields PLLC filed a class action suit against Meta (formerly Facebook Inc.) earlier this week, reports Reuters. Additionally, British lawyers sent a letter of notice to Facebook’s offices in London.
Facebook has said in the past that it was too slow in removing and preventing hate speech regarding the Rohingya in Myanmar, and has since upped its game (for example, by banning the Myanmar military from Instagram and Facebook following the 1 Feb coup). However, it has repeatedly defended itself legally, citing Section 230, a U.S. internet law that declares online platforms not liable for content posted by users.
The Rohingya complaint seeks to apply local law to the case due to the tangible damages being done in Myanmar. Whether or not this will hold water for U.S. courts remains to be seen. Additionally, the complaint reportedly makes reference to recent claims by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen that the platform does not adequately moderate hate speech in countries where it is most likely to cause physical damage.