• Facebook expected to respond to Rohingya complaint at the OECD 
  • Investigation reveals platform still fails to detect Burmese language hate speech  
  • Frances Haugen, in Dublin, highlights Facebook’s complicity in inciting violence

A joint statement from Global Witness, Avaaz, Victim Advocates International, and the Irish Council on Civil Liberties

A group of young Rohingya in the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, have taken on Facebook over the platform's role in inciting widespread violence. Facebook is set to respond to their complaint this week. The complaint, filed with Ireland’s OECD National Contact Point, calls for Facebook to fund the groups’ educational programmes for their children and young people - programmes they had previously asked for support from for Facebook, for an amount of $1 million. Facebook itself admitted in 2018 that it played a role in the incitement of violence against the Rohingya, but has done little to support the community thus far.

The refugees’ case has inspired Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who is set to arrive in Dublin today. She says: "These young Rohingya men and women have gone through hell, fleeing violence fueled by Facebook’s algorithm. They’ve recounted their traumatic stories again and again. Their courage in fighting for an education, and justice for their people – despite all odds – is inspiring. Meta has repeatedly shown they will do the bare minimum they can get away with. The question is: will we, and lawmakers in Ireland and the world with the power to do something, stand with the Rohingya for justice?”   

An investigation from Global Witness released today has found that Facebook still fails to detect and root out hate speech capable of inciting violence and genocide against the Rohingya despite its commitments to better detect Burmese language hate speech. Global Witness submitted eight explicit and violent ads containing real examples of Burmese language hate speech against Rohingya – all of which fall under Facebook’s criteria for hate speech – and Facebook approved all eight ads for publishing. (Global Witness pulled them before they were published so they could do no harm.) 

Sixteen Rohingya youth in their late teens and early twenties filed the complaint with Ireland’s OECD contact, arguing that Facebook violated the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Prior to filing the complaint these young people spent months attempting to work with Facebook to support an education project in Cox’s Bazar where half a million people do not have access to formal education. After an initial meeting with the company, Facebook’s Director of Human Rights Miranda Sissons informed the group that Facebook could not fund their educational activities because those activities did not have “a more direct link to [Facebook’s] products” (see Sissons’ letter here).  

Showkot Ara, one of the complainants, says: "We cannot undo the loss we have experienced because of misinformation on Facebook. There are many educated girls like me in the camp without any job opportunities. They could have led a better life if they had been able to stay in Burma. With education a woman can teach the upcoming generation and provide a beautiful life -- that is what I want to do, so why won't Facebook help?

Rohingya men and women will be waiting in Cox’s Bazar to find out Facebook’s response to their allegations. Deprived of the future and education they had dreamt of before fleeing Myanmar, the Rohingya complainants are now looking to Ireland – and the world – to stand with them in their fight for justice against the multi-billion-dollar social media company.  

This complaint is part of a growing trend of actions and lawsuits aimed at pressuring Facebook to take responsibility for its role in the violence against the Rohingya people. The company is also facing lawsuits in the UK and the US.  

Thousands of citizens across Ireland have joined a solidarity campaign with the Rohingya, calling on Facebook to fund an education program in the refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, and to revisit its human rights policies to stop these human rights violations from happening again.