Facebook is appealing a Gambian request for internal records linked to a Myanmar genocide case, filings show. On Wednesday, the company challenged part of a judge’s order in favor of the Republic of The Gambia that would require the tech giant to release internal documents and private user content connected to the genocide of 24,000 Rohingya people in Myanmar.
It’s the latest development in a legal battle regarding Facebook’s role in genocidal violence. The company said sharing users’ private content would create “grave human rights concerns of its own.”
The company is appealing US Magistrate Zia Faruqi’s September mandate that said Facebook must disclose records from the company’s private investigation into its role in the systematic mass executions of Rohingya civilians by the Myanmar military.
Faruqi’s order also asked Facebook to release content posted by accounts affiliated or suspected of being affiliated with Myanmar officials.
“Locking away the requested content would be throwing away the opportunity to understand how disinformation begat genocide of the Rohingya,” Faruqi wrote in the ruling.
The tech giant argued that disclosing internet users’ private content would violate federal law under the Stored Communications Act, adding that fulfilling such a request would create “grave human rights concerns of its own.”
The appeal specified that Facebook would comply with requests to “produce relevant public information and non-content metadata.”
In a statement to Insider, Rafael Frankel, Facebook’s Director of South and Southeast Asia Policy, said: “We support international efforts to bring accountability for atrocity crimes committed against the Rohingya people. We’ve made voluntary, lawful disclosures to the UN’s Investigative Mechanism for more than a year and we commit to disclosing information to The Gambia to complement that effort. We also support modernizing the SCA and reforms that allow a broader range of disclosures for significant investigations like this, while avoiding a precedent that risks the privacy and human rights of billions of people.”
Facebook’s filing is the latest development in an international legal battle alleging Myanmar officials of genocide against the Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority.
Beginning in 2016, the military carried out “clearance operations” of the ethnic group that included the rape, torture, and mass executions of tens of thousands of men, women, and children, court documents say.
Digital hate campaigns against the Rohingya on Facebook led to “communal violence and mob justice,” The Republic of the Gambia claims in the international court filings, as organized groups used “multiple fake accounts and news pages to spread hate speech, fake news, and misinformation for political gain.”
Facebook itself admitted that it was “too slow to respond to the concerns raised” regarding the violence, and said it will cooperate with Faruqi’s directive to provide public information on “hundreds of accounts, groups, and pages removed from its platform.”
Facebook called the order “sweeping and unprecedented,” and said it would leave “internet users’ private content unprotected and thereby susceptible to disclosure – at a provider’s whim – to private litigants, foreign governments, law enforcement, or anyone else.”
Whistleblowers Frances Haugen and Sophie Zhang have raised concerns over Facebook’s international security issues.
“Facebook’s consistent understaffing of the counterespionage, information operations, and counterterrorism teams is a national security issue,” Haugen said in a testimony to lawmakers earlier this month. “I have strong national security concerns about how Facebook operates today.”
Zhang, who was fired from Facebook last year, posted a 7,800-word memo detailing how she believed the company allowed authoritarian regimes around the world to manipulate its platform.