A prominent human rights group says Facebook’s owner Meta owes the Rohingya reparations for the platform’s role in fuelling violence against the mostly Muslim minority in Myanmar.
Amnesty International issued the call for compensation on Thursday after accusing Meta of failing to act despite activists repeatedly warning the company about the implications of anti-Rohingya hate speech on its Facebook platform.
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The group said Myanmar activists had raised concerns about the issue with Meta as early as 2012, some five years before the country’s military launched a campaign of mass killings and rape that forced more than 700,000 Rohingya to seek refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh.
The brutal crackdown is now the subject of a genocide investigation at the International Court of Justice, while in March this year, the United States officially declared the military’s actions a genocide.
“In the months and years leading up to the atrocities, Facebook’s algorithms were intensifying a storm of hatred against the Rohingya which contributed to real-world violence,” said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general.
“While the Myanmar military was committing crimes against humanity against the Rohingya, Meta was profiting from the echo chamber of hatred created by its hate-spiralling algorithms,” she said in a statement. “Meta must be held to account. The company now has a responsibility to provide reparations to all those who suffered the violent consequences of their reckless actions.”
There was no immediate comment from Meta.
Investigators from the United Nations have previously said Facebook had played a “determining role” in fuelling the violence against the Rohingya.
Facebook has “substantively contributed to the level of acrimony and dissension and conflict, if you will, within the public,” Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, told reporters in 2018. “Hate speech is certainly, of course, a part of that. As far as the Myanmar situation is concerned, social media is Facebook, and Facebook is social media.”
Rohingya refugees last December sued Meta in the US for $150bn for failing to act on hate speech against the ethnic group.
At the time, a spokesperson for Meta said the company was “appalled by the crimes committed against the Rohingya people in Myanmar” and said it has taken several steps to tackle hate speech on the platform. These include banning Myanmar’s military from the platform and building a dedicated team of Burmese speakers to moderate content on the platform.
Amnesty said these measures were not enough.
In addition to remediating the “terrible harm” that Meta contributed to, Amnesty said the company must also make “fundamental changes” to its algorithms, “which all actively amplify and distribute content which incites violence and discrimination” and delivers this content “directly to the people most likely to act upon such incitement”.
“Facebook must pay,” Amnesty quoted Showkutara, a 22-year-old Rohingya woman, as saying. “If they do not, we will go to every court in the world. We will never give up in our struggle.”