By MADISON HIRNEISON
The Center Square
(The Center Square) – Rohingya refugees from Myanmar filed a lawsuit against Facebook (Meta Platforms Inc.) on Monday, seeking $150 billion in damages for the platform’s alleged role in perpetuating the Rohingya genocide by allowing hate speech that spurred violence against the persecuted group.
The suit, filed in California Superior Court on Monday, alleges that Facebook was willing to “knowingly facilitate the spread of anti-Rohingya hate speech, misinformation, and the widespread incitement of violence against the Rohingya people,” and allowed this to continue for years even after the platform was notified of the “horrific and deadly consequences of its inaction.”
As a result, the lawsuit claims that the widespread dissemination of hate speech on Facebook’s platform fostered the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar (formerly Burma), saying the social media giant was “willing to trade the lives of the Rohingya people for better market penetration in a small country in Southeast Asia.”
“Zuckerberg’s Meta has shown time and again that it will put its own growth over the health and welfare of our world,” Jay Edelson, founder and CEO of Edelson PC, whose firm is representing refugees in this suit, said in a statement. “Through this suit, we believe that we will be able to prove that Meta remained committed to this strategy, even though that meant, in this case, stoking a genocide.”
A similar lawsuit was filed by Rohingya refugees in the United Kingdom on Monday. Facebook did not respond to The Center Square’s request for comment on the lawsuit.
For years, the lawsuit says the Rohingya population has been treated as “less than human” by the Myanmar military and by “civilian terrorists,” but actions began to intensify after Facebook was introduced in the country in 2011. Using Facebook, the Myanmar military and its civilian conspirators used the social media platform to “organize and spread terror” as they carried out violent acts of genocide, according to the lawsuit.
The suit claims that Facebook was aware of this targeting of Rohingya on its platform. The lawsuit quotes a former Facebook employee turned whistleblower who claimed executives were “fully aware that posts ordering hits by the Myanmar government on the minority Muslim Rohingya were spreading wildly on Facebook.”
In addition, the suit said Facebook’s algorithms “train users to post more hate speech and misinformation in order to garner more attention online,” saying that the tech giant is aware that hateful and outraged speech is “oxygen to the company’s blood.”
“In Burma, much hate speech against Rohingya people is on Facebook,” Nasir Zakaria, activist and executive director of the Chicago-based Rohingya Culture Center, said in a statement on Monday. “My people suffer violence because of hate speech. I believe Facebook sees this but does not stop it.”
As violence ensued in the nation over the last decade, thousands of Rohingya fled the country seeking refuge elsewhere. The majority ended up in Bangladesh, where many still live, while more than 10,000 Rohingya currently live in the U.S. under refugee status.
The suit, which was filed as a class action complaint, seeks to represent all Rohingya who left Myanmar on or after June 1, 2012 and arrived in the U.S. under refugee status or sought asylum protection in the U.S. The plaintiff in the suit, referred to as “Jane Doe,” is one of these refugees.
Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, Facebook is largely protected from these allegations in the U.S. But the plaintiff in this case is planning to apply Burmese law to her claims, which “does not immunize social media companies for their role in inciting violence and contributing to genocide,” according to the lawsuit.