Rohingya refugees bring $150 billion lawsuit against Facebook

The refugees are arguing that the tech giant did not do enough to prevent the spread of anti-Rohingya propaganda and misinformation

Updated: December 6, 2021 - 11:47am

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook


Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are suing Facebook for $150 billion over allegations that the massive tech company failed to appropriately act against anti-Rohingya hate speech that fueled what would become intensive real-world violence against the group.

Rohingya refugees in the U.S. and the U.K. filed similar suits in those courts, stating in a complaint, "Facebook is like a robot programmed with a singular mission: to grow. And the undeniable reality is that Facebook’s growth, fueled by hate, division, and misinformation, has left hundreds of thousands of devastated Rohingya lives in its wake."

Attorneys representing the refugees will attempt to apply international law to the claims, since U.S. under (the controversial) Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, internet companies are provided with liability protection for content posted by third parties. 

The suit alleges that Facebook algorithms tend to encourage "susceptible users join extremist group," creating a situation that is "naturally open to exploitation by autocratic politicians and regimes."

"As such, Facebook’s arrival in Burma provided exactly what the military and its civilian terrorists were praying for," continues the complaint, which goes on to allege that the company "barely reacted and devoted scant resources" to address the threats despite being "repeatedly alerted between 2013 and 2017 to the vast quantities of anti-Rohingya hate speech and misinformation on its system."

The suit draws on the testimony earlier this year of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who told multiple congressional panels that here former employer is "fanning ethnic violence" in areas beyond the U.S.

"What we saw in Myanmar and are now seeing in Ethiopia are only the opening chapters of a story so terrifying, no one wants to read the end of it," she said, claiming that the tech giant understands what changes need to be made to make the online platforms safer, but has repeatedly failed to make them.

The International Criminal Court is currently investigating whether the Myanmar military committed large-scale war crimes against the Rohingya population. Several years ago, between 600,000 and 1 million Rohingya were forcibly displaced from Myanmar – most fled to neighboring Bangladesh, though there are pockets of refugees in several western countries. 

In 2018, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg issued a statement that an independent commission found that the company had not been doing enough to ensure that the platform was not being used globally to "foment division and incite offline violence."