Rohingya refugees in the US and UK on Monday filed a coordinated lawsuit against Meta Platforms, Inc. (“Facebook”) alleging the social media giant’s “inaction and support of hate speech, misinformation, and incitement of violence fostered the 10-year genocide of the Rohingya Muslims.”
The suit was filed by Chicago-based Edelson PC and seeks to apply Myanmar law to the plaintiffs’ claim in an attempt to circumvent § 230 of the Communications Decency Act—a US law that protects tech companies from content posted by users. According to the Complaint, social media companies are not immune under Myanmar law for inciting violence and/or genocide.
The Complaint alleges that the introduction of Facebook in Myanmar in 2011 has since “materially contributed to the development and widespread dissemination of anti-Rohingya hate speech, misinformation, and incitement of violence,” which in turn significantly contributed to the “perpetuation of, the eventual Rohingya genocide.”
More specifically, the Complaint alleges that Facebook designed its system and the underlying algorithms “in a manner that rewarded users for posting, and thereby encouraged and trained them to post, increasingly extreme and outrageous hate speech, misinformation, and conspiracy theories attacking particular groups.”
The Complaint further alleges that Facebook breached its duty to use reasonable care to avoid injuring others by “negligently designing its algorithms to fill Burmese users’ News Feeds (especially users particularly susceptible to such content) with disproportionate amounts of hate speech, misinformation, and other content dangerous” to the Rohingya and that “Rather than taking what it’s learned to change its practices, Facebook made a corporate decision to lean into the hate.”
The Complaint is also filled with quotes and references from Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen, who notably remarked that the company has refused to make the necessary changes to Facebook and Instagram despite having the resources to do so because it has put “profits before people.” The core of this Complaint is similar in that it accuses Facebook of putting “market penetration” and profits before the lives of the Rohingya people.
The causes of action in the suit include strict product liability and negligence, and specifically addresses the following questions of law: whether Facebook (i.e. the product) contains design defects that 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 suit has been filed in California Superior Court in San Mateo County and seeks compensatory damages of $150 billion for wrongful death, personal injury, pain and suffering, emotional distress and loss of property, punitive damages in an amount to be determined at trial, reasonable litigation expenses and attorneys’ fees, interest (pre and post judgment) to the extent permissible, and other relief “as equity and justice may require.”
Plaintiffs demand a jury trial.