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Rohingya Muslims launch landmark legal case against Facebook

The north district court in San Francisco has received a class action complaint, on behalf of estimated 10,000 Rohingya Muslims, against the social media giant Facebook for enabling and fomenting genocidal violence in Myanmar.

In 2018 Facebook admitted that it had not done enough to prevent the incitement of violence and hate speech against the Rohingya; following a brutal military campaign in the Rakhine state which saw over 10,000 Rohingya killed. There are an estimated million Rohingya who continued to be displaced and living in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camp, in south-eastern Bangladesh.

“Despite Facebook’s recognition of its culpability and its pronouncements about its role in the world, there has not been a single penny of compensation, nor any other form of reparations or support, offered to any survivor", a letter written by the lawyers representing this case noted.

The letter further slammed the company noting that Facebook was “willing to trade the lives of the Rohingya people for better market penetration in a small country in south-east Asia.”

“In the end, there was so little for Facebook to gain from its continued presence in Burma, and the consequences for the Rohingya people could not have been more dire. Yet, in the face of this knowledge, and possessing the tools to stop it, it simply kept marching forward” it added.

An independent commission investigating Facebook had found that the platform had "become a means for those seeking to spread hate and cause harm, and posts have been linked to offline violence”. In the Rohingya case, it was evidenced that the "campaign was fomented by extensive material published on and amplified by the Facebook platform,”

The complaint further details some of these posts which including one in 2013 stating:

“We must fight them the way Hitler did the Jews, damn Kalars [a derogatory term for Rohingya people].”

Another post in 2018 showed a photo of a boatload of Rohingya refugees and stated:

“Pour fuel and set fire so that they can meet Allah faster.”

Frances Haugen, a Facebook whistleblower, has accused the platform of fanning ethnic violence in countries such as Ethiopia and that efforts to curb this was ineffective. 87% of the spending on combatting misinformation, she noted, was spent on English content while only 9% of users are English speakers. Facebook has also faced criticism for acting with governments to censor minorities.

The US case is acting on behalf of an estimated 10,000 Rohingya in the country whilst a similar UK case has about 20 claimants.

Read more here and here.

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