US court orders Facebook to post tapes of anti-Rohingya content for genocide case

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A Facebook logo is displayed on a smartphone in this illustration taken on January 6, 2020. REUTERS / Dado Ruvic / Illustration

September 23 (Reuters) – A U.S. federal judge ordered Facebook (FB.O) to release the tapes of accounts linked to anti-Rohingya violence in Myanmar that the social media giant had shut down, dismissing its argument over protecting privacy as “rich in irony”.

The Washington, DC judge on Wednesday criticized Facebook for failing to pass information to investigators seeking to prosecute the country for international crimes against the Rohingya Muslim minority, according to a copy of the ruling.

Facebook had refused to disclose the data, claiming it would violate a US law prohibiting electronic communications services from disclosing user communications.

But the judge said the posts, which were deleted, would not be covered by the law and that failure to share the content “would exacerbate the tragedy that befell the Rohingya.”

“Facebook’s assuming the role of privacy rights is rich in irony. News sites have entire sections devoted to the sordid history of Facebook’s privacy scandals,” he wrote.

A Facebook spokesperson said the company was reviewing the decision and had already made “voluntary and legal disclosures” to another United Nations agency, the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar.

More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar’s Rakhine State in August 2017 after a military crackdown which refugees say includes massacres and rapes. Rights groups have documented killings of civilians and the burning of villages.

The Burmese authorities say they are fighting an insurgency and deny having committed systematic atrocities.

The crackdown by the military, during the reign of the civilian government of Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, has not sparked much uproar in the predominantly Buddhist nation, where the Rohingya are widely ridiculed as immigrants illegal from Bangladesh.

The Gambia wants the data of a case against Myanmar which it is pursuing before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, accusing Myanmar of having violated the United Nations Convention on Genocide of 1948.

In 2018, UN human rights investigators said Facebook had played a key role in the spread of hate speech that fueled the violence.

A Reuters investigation that year revealed more than 1,000 examples of hate speech on Facebook, including calling out Rohingya and other Muslims about dogs, maggots and rapists, suggesting they are being fed to pigs and urging them to be killed or exterminated.

Facebook said at the time that it had been “too slow to prevent disinformation and hatred” in Myanmar.

In Wednesday’s ruling, US investigating judge Zia M. Faruqui said Facebook took a first step in removing “content that fueled genocide” but “stumbled” by not sharing it.

“A surgeon who excises a tumor doesn’t just throw it in the trash. She asks for a pathology report to identify the disease,” he said.

“Locking up the requested content would waste the opportunity to understand how disinformation spawned the Rohingya genocide and would prevent an ICJ account. “

Shannon Raj Singh, human rights lawyer at Twitter (TWTR.N), called the move “momentary” and “one of the prime examples of the relevance of social media to modern atrocity prevention and response. “.

Reporting by Poppy Elena McPherson; Editing by Martin Petty

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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