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Rohingya refugees sue Facebook for $150 billion over Myanmar genocide

The class-action suit alleges Facebook turned a blind eye to hate speech.
A protester holds a placard during protest against Myanmar's treatment of its Rohingya Muslim minority in front of Myanmar's embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, December 5, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta
REUTERS/Beawiharta
Jon Fingas
Jon Fingas|@jonfingas|December 7, 2021 10:06 AM

Facebook has been repeatedly accused of enabling Myanmar's genocide against the country's Rohingya minority, and now it will deal with those accusations in court. A Rohingya woman has filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of refugees against Facebook parent company Meta, alleging the company both amplified anti-Rohingya hate speech through its algorithms and failed to remove content fostering violence. The refugees ask for over $150 billion in damages.

The plaintiffs argued that Facebook only took meaningful action against pro-genocide factions after it was pushed. The Myanmar military launched its purge of Rohingya in 2017, with officials and nationalist monks spreading slurs and misinformation on Facebook to either justify or cover up atrocities. Facebook only started cracking down in August 2018 following a UN report linking unchecked behavior on the social network to real-world violence. The company requested an independent audit at the same time that reached a similar conclusion. This was too little too late, according to the refugees — the company admitted it "should and could have done more" only after mass displacements and deaths.

Meta has already declined to comment on the lawsuit. A similar complaint is expected in the UK in 2022.

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The firm was quick to clamp down on the Myanmar military following its February 2021 coup, and went so far as to pull the military's main page. However, that swifter response won't help much with a lawsuit over past actions. While it's too soon to say whether or not the lawsuit will succeed, let alone obtain the hoped-for damages, the company may have a difficult time defending itself.

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