Altogether, the attorneys represent “Rohingya people around the world, including those living in refugee camps in Bangladesh,” states the website.
In a letter addressed to Facebook’s London office on Monday, McCue Jury & Partners said that it had coordinated with partners in the United States to kick off a “trans-Atlantic legal campaign to seek justice for the Rohingya people.”
“Claimants in both cases will seek to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal,” Mishcon de Reya, one of the British law firms handling the UK complaint, said.
Facebook also allegedly “failed to close specific accounts or delete specific groups or pages, which were being used to propagate hate speech and/or incite violence,” the statement said.
Meta declined to comment on Tuesday.
The US suit -— which was the first to be filed — would have to clear numerous hurdles just to make it to summary judgment or trial, let alone secure a favorable ruling, according to Josh Davis, a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law with expertise in class action lawsuits and complex litigation.
For a suit to be certified as a class action by a judge, plaintiffs involved must have experienced predominantly “common” issues. But given the nature of the crisis in Myanmar, the experiences of potential class members could vary widely and “it’s hard to imagine proof that would be common to the class that would establish that Facebook’s conduct harmed individual class members,” Davis said.
The legal argument in the US case may also be tricky. It alleges that Facebook should face product liability and negligence claims for failing to address defects in its platform which plaintiffs claim contributed to anti-Rohingya violence, court documents show. In the United States, Facebook would typically be protected from such liability by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, but the suit asks the court to instead apply Burmese law, which it says does not provide such protections.
Davis said American courts are typically reluctant to take on such cases. He added that proving Facebook’s actions caused the harms to the Rohingya people may be difficult.
“From a legal perspective, it’s going to be [a] really challenging [case] to bring,” Davis said.
In 2016 and 2017, the military launched a brutal campaign of killing and arson that forced more than 740,000 Rohingya minority people to flee into neighboring Bangladesh, prompting a genocide case that was heard at the International Court of Justice.
In 2019, the United Nations said “grave human rights abuses” by the military were still continuing in the ethnic states of Rakhine, Chin, Shan, Kachin and Karen. Survivors have recounted harrowing atrocities including gang rape, mass killings, torture and widespread destruction of property at the hands of the army.
Haugen has said that “Facebook executives were fully aware that posts ordering hits by the Myanmar government on the minority Muslim Rohingya were spreading wildly on Facebook,” and that “the issue of the Rohingya being targeted on Facebook was well known inside the company for years,” according to the suit.
“If we didn’t care about fighting harmful content, then why would we employ so many more people dedicated to this than any other company in our space — even ones larger than us?” he wrote at the time.
Still, Facebook’s previous admissions won’t necessarily bolster the arguments made in these new lawsuits. “To say that they should have done more doesn’t mean that they violated anyone’s legal rights or that anyone can establish that what Facebook did caused their injury,” Davis said.
— Clare Duffy, Helen Regan, Eliza Mackintosh and Rishi Iyengar contributed to this report.