Coordinated legal actions on behalf of victims and survivors of genocide started today in the UK and US alleging Facebook’s negligence encouraged and facilitated the genocide carried out by the Myanmar regime and its extremist supporters against the Rohingya people.
Today lawyers in the UK and US initiated coordinated legal campaigns against Facebook for its role in facilitating the genocide perpetrated by the Myanmar regime and extremist civilians against the Rohingya people. The total value of the claims exceeds $150 billion.
In the UK, the lawyers have given Facebook formal notice of their intention to initiate proceedings on behalf of non-US resident Rohingya survivors around the world. Facebook has been required to preserve all relevant corporate records and documentation. The separate US claim has been filed on behalf of the Rohingya community who are resident in the US.
The claimants in both cases will seek to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal.
Unspeakable atrocities (the UN described the violence as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”) have been inflicted on the Rohingya people in Myanmar, at the hands of both the military and civilians. In 2017 alone, more than 10,000 people were killed and over 150,000 were subject to physical violence. The Rohingya people continue to suffer serious psychological trauma and displacement, as the vast majority of the population were forced to flee Myanmar. Approximately one million survivors now reside in temporary refugee camps in Bangladesh.
Facebook – a group described in the 2018 UN report as having “an extraordinary and outsized role” in the country – has admitted that it did not do enough to stop its platform from being used to create division and incite real world violence. Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged in his Senate testimony that “we need to do more”; Adam Mosseri, a vice president of product management at Facebook stated that “we lose some sleep over this”; and a former member of Facebook’s Integrity team recently acknowledged that “I, working for Facebook, had been a party to genocide”.
The legal claims, which are a culmination of substantial legal research and investigation, seek to go further and hold Facebook accountable before a court of law. The allegations against Facebook include that:
Facebook used algorithms that amplified hate speech against the Rohingya people on its platform.
Facebook failed in its policy and in practice to invest sufficiently in content moderators who spoke Burmese or Rohingya or local fact checkers with an understanding of the political situation in Myanmar.
Facebook failed to take down specific posts inciting violence against or containing hate speech directed towards the Rohingya people.
Facebook failed to close specific accounts or delete specific groups or pages, which were being used to propagate hate speech and/or incite violence.
Facebook, regardless of being warned from around 2013 onwards by NGOs and media about extensive anti-Rohingya posts, groups and accounts on its platform, failed to take appropriate and timely action. To this day, Facebook’s recommendation algorithm invites users to “like” pages that share pro-military propaganda that violate the platform’s rules and associates and proxies of the Myanmar military regime are still using the Facebook platform.
Tun Khin, President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, commented: “We are seeking justice for the Rohingya people. This powerful global company must be held to account for its role in permitting the spread of hateful anti-Rohingya propaganda which directly led to unspeakable violence. Facebook turned away while a genocide was being perpetrated – putting profit before the human rights of the Rohingya people.”
Naomi Hirst, campaign leader at Global Witness, commented: “Big Tech needs to be held accountable for amplifying inflammatory, hateful content that can lead to real world harms. Our own research found that Facebook’s recommendation algorithm directed users in Myanmar towards content that incited violence and pushed misinformation during the early and brutal days of the military coup. Court cases like these are critically important, as is legislation to help prevent this from happening again.”
Mark Farmaner, Director, Burma Campaign UK, commented: “These cases are important not just to compensate Rohingya genocide survivors, but also to force Facebook to face up to the role it played in facilitating genocide and change the way it operates. Even today Facebook still allows the military to use Facebook to raise funds and spread propaganda.”
The claimants in the UK claim are being represented by McCue Jury & Partners LLP (led by Senior Partner Jason McCue) and Mishcon de Reya LLP (led by Managing Partner James Libson). The barrister team is being led by Richard Hermer QC and Danny Friedman QC of Matrix Chambers, and also includes Ben Silverstone (Matrix Chambers), Andrew Scott (Blackstone Chambers), Kate Boakes (12 Kings Bench Walk), Emma Mockford (Brick Court Chambers), and Nina Tavakoli (Red Lion Chambers).
Jason McCue, Senior Partner, McCue Jury & Partners LLP commented: “The world has stood by for over a decade and allowed a genocide against the Rohingya take place. There have been many words of sympathy and acts of compassion towards the Rohingya, but justice, accountability and sanction has been sadly lacking. That changes today. Facebook was the guard of its internet platforms and had a duty of care to its users and the public at large. Whilst on duty, it allowed toxic hatred and ethnic cleansing to be deployed at will by the Myanmar regime and its supporters within its extremist hate speech chat forums. Facebook stood by and watched as its algorithms exacerbated the situation and then failed, after countless warnings, to promptly, properly or compassionately put a stop to it until far too late in the day.”
James Libson, Managing Partner, Mishcon de Reya LLP commented: “Where global governance and institutions have entirely failed, it is left to the Rohingya people themselves to seek justice for the atrocities they have suffered. While the root causes of these atrocities were appalling and old ethnic hatreds to which the Rohingya people have been subject for generations, Facebook was used to fan the flames of hatred. Facebook bears some responsibility for this and these cases will show that no matter how large an organisation is, it is accountable for the harm it causes.”
The US claimants are represented by Fields PLLC (led by Richard W. Fields) and Edelson PC (led by Jay Edelson), two major consumer protection law firms.