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US and UK Rohingya refugees sue Facebook alleging dissemination of ‘hateful and dangerous misinformation’

By Arshita Anand

On Monday, Rohingya Muslims in the United States and the United Kingdom filed a joint lawsuit against Meta Platforms, Inc. (“Facebook”), alleging that the social media giant’s “inaction and support of hate speech, misinformation, and incitement of violence facilitated the 10-year genocide of the Rohingya Muslims.”

The lawsuit was filed by Edelson PC of Chicago, and it aims to apply Myanmar law to the plaintiffs’ claim in an attempt to get around Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects tech businesses from user-generated content. According to the Complaint, under Myanmar law, social media firms are not immune from inciting violence and/or genocide.

According to the complaint, Facebook’s introduction to Myanmar in 2011 “materially contributed to the development and widespread dissemination of anti-Rohingya hate speech, misinformation, and incitement to violence,” which in turn “significantly contributed to the perpetuation of, the eventual Rohingya genocide.”

The Complaint goes on to say that Facebook designed its system and underlying algorithms “in such a way that rewarded users for posting increasingly extreme and outrageous hate speech, misinformation, and conspiracy theories attacking particular groups, and thus encouraged and trained users to post them.”

The Complaint also claims that Facebook violated its duty to use reasonable care to avoid injuring others by “negligently designing its algorithms to flood Burmese users’ News Feeds (especially those who are particularly vulnerable to such content) with disproportionate amounts of hate speech, misinformation, and other content dangerous” to the Rohingya, and that “rather than using what it’s learned to change its practises, Facebook made a corporate decision to lean into the crisis.

The Complaint also includes remarks and references from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who stated that despite having the capacity to do so, the business has refused to make the necessary adjustments to Facebook and Instagram.

The suit’s causes of action include strict product liability and negligence, and it specifically addresses the following legal issues: whether Facebook (the product) contains design defects that have harmed Rohingya Muslims, and if so, whether Facebook is strictly liable for them; whether Facebook owed a duty of care to the Rohingya when entering the Myanmar market; whether Facebook breached that duty through its method of operation in Myanmar; and whether such operations caused harm to the Rohingya.

The lawsuit was filed in San Mateo County Superior Court and seeks $150 billion in compensatory damages for wrongful death, personal injury, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and property loss, as well as punitive damages to be determined at trial, reasonable litigation expenses and attorneys’ fees, interest (pre and post judgement) to the extent permissible, and other relief “as equity and justice may require.

Plaintiffs are seeking damages.

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