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Internally displaced Rohingya peoples at a market area in the Baw Du Pha IDP Camp in Myanmar. Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images

Rohingya refugees accused Facebook in a $150 million lawsuit filed Monday of amplifying hate speech against the persecuted minority Muslims in Myanmar via algorithms and failing to take down inflammatory posts.

Why it matters: Thousands of Rohingya Muslims have been killed in Myanmar in what the UN deemed a genocidal campaign. Tens of thousands of others have been displaced, notably following a massacre by Myanmar's military in 2017.

  • Facebook is largely safeguarded under American law over content posted by its users, but the lawsuit filed in San Francisco by Rohingya refugees from the U.S. is seeking for the court to apply Burmese law, which doesn't have such protections.

Details: The suit accuses Facebook of being "willing to trade the lives of the Rohingya people for better market penetration in a small country in Southeast Asia." Lawyers also submitted a letter of notice to Facebook's London office on behalf of Rohingya refugees in the U.K.

  • "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," the lawsuit alleges.
  • The suit cited congressional testimony from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, accusing the tech giant of a "failure to learn from its deadly mistakes in Myanmar" in Ethiopia's conflict.

The big picture: A 2018 UN report found Facebook played "a determining role" in disseminating hateful rhetoric in Myanmar.

  • The International Criminal Court has opened an investigation into crimes against Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Worth noting: Facebook issued a statement in 2018 in response to an independent human rights report it commissioned on the impact of the social media site in Myanmar.

  • "The report concludes that, prior to this year, we weren’t doing enough to help prevent our platform from being used to foment division and incite offline violence," the company stated, adding it agreed and pledged to do more.

Yes, but: The lawsuit called this response "underwhelming," saying that it "failed to capture even a scintilla of the gravity" of what Facebook "had done and the role it played."

What to watch: Legal experts note there's no known successful legal precedent for invoking foreign law in a suit against social media firms when protections under Section 230 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act can apply, per Reuters.

  • Representatives for Meta, Facebook's parent company, declined to comment on the suit.

Go deeper

Jan 11, 2022 - Technology

Meta loses bid to dismiss FTC antitrust case

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Federal Trade Commission's antitrust suit against Meta, formerly Facebook, can move forward, a federal court ruled Tuesday.

The big picture: The same judge who dismissed an earlier version of the agency's lawsuit, filed under the Trump administration, says this time the government's case — as rewritten by the agency now led by chair Lina Khan — is good enough to try.

Former Texas elected official sues for defamation

Flags fly near an oil rig in Midland in 2020. Photo: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

A new defamation lawsuit mixes politics with the internet.

Driving the news: A former elected oil and gas regulator has filed the lawsuit against a man who published explosive claims that the state official engaged in an extramarital affair.

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Winter view from Charlotte as winter storm Izzy creates dangerous conditions in Charlotte, N.C. on Jan. 16. Photo: Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A major winter storm was lashing much of the East Coast on Sunday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The big picture: Heavy snow and ice accumulations are "likely to produce hazardous travel," downed trees and more power outages from the Mid-South to the Northeast, per the National Weather Service. Some parts of the U.S. can expect to see up to a foot of snow through Monday.