A Rohingya refugee group filed suit against Facebook on Monday for $150 billion, claiming the social network failed to stem hate speech on its platform, which in turn exacerbated violence against the minority group.
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In the complaint, filed in a California court, the company claims its algorithms facilitate disinformation and extremist beliefs that manifest as violence in the real world.
“Facebook is a robot programmed solely with the goal of growing,” the court document states.
“The growth of Facebook, which is fueled by hate, division, and misinformation, has resulted in the destruction of thousands of Rohingya lives.”
Myanmar mainly discriminates against this group, which has lived in the country for generations but is scorned as an interloper.
Over a decade ago, millions of Rohingya were driven across the border into Bangladesh by a military campaign the UN said constituted genocide. Since then, they have lived in sprawling refugee camps in Bangladesh.
Others remain in Myanmar, where they are discriminated against and forced to live under violence by the ruling military junta.
According to Facebook’s legal complaint, its algorithms lead vulnerable users to join ever-more extreme groups, a situation that can be exploited by autocratic governments and politicians.
Facebook has long been criticized for failing to take adequate steps to prevent the spread of misinformation.
The company does not act even when warned about hate speech on its platform, say critics.
Because of this, they accuse Facebook of spreading lies. Democracies such as the United States have experienced unfounded allegations of fraud impacting minority communities and tilting elections.
An insider leak this year sparked articles that suggested Facebook, whose parent company is now called Meta, was aware that their sites could harm some of their billions of users, but executives chose growth over safety.
An American congresswoman said that Facebook “finances ethnic violence” in some countries in October.
The content that users post on Facebook is generally protected from liability under US law.
A Rohingya lawsuit anticipates this defense and argues that, where applicable, Myanmar law should prevail as it does not have such protections.
It has been under intense scrutiny in the United States and Europe over election and coronavirus fake news. Questions about the lawsuit were not immediately answered by Facebook in the United States.
AFP has forged a partnership with the company for the purpose of verifying online posts and removing false information.