Handling Facebook: social media in the light of human rights violations

Available in Russian

Price 100 rub.

Authors: Gleb Bogush, Olga Kudinova

DOI: 10.21128/2226-2059-2020-4-59-76

Keywords: cyberspace; genocide; international crimes; international jurisdiction; international law; non-state actors; social media


International justice does not remain on the sidelines from the intensive development of social media: the data stored on the social media possesses great evidentiary value in international courts. The dispute over the disclosure of information by Facebook for use in the Gambia v. Myanmar dispute before the International Court of Justice raises a broader issue of the international legal status of telecommunications companies, obligations of companies and states in relation to the use of social media for human rights violations and commission of international crimes. The article assesses the existing international legal regime of human rights obligations of global social media corporations, as well as their role in administration of international justice, by examining the case of the use of Facebook disseminating hate speech and inciting violence against the discriminated group of Rohingya in Myanmar. The authors analyze the report of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, Facebook’s reaction to the information of its influence on the situation with Rohingya, and measures taken by the company to reduce the negative impact of its business activity on human rights. The article draws attention to the inconsistent position of Facebook with regard to facilitating the investigation of violations of international law committed through the social media. In particular, the authors comment on the dispute between the Gambia and Facebook before the U.S. Courts arising from the request on disclosure of materials forming evidence in the case of the Gambia v. Myanmar, and lack of action from the US with respect to human rights violations and genocide committed with resources of the US-based social media company. The authors underscore the uncertainty of international legal regulation that impedes effective international investigations of serious human rights violations. Non-state actors remain outside the reach of international justice and international accountability mechanisms, especially when they operate in jurisdictions of states that ignore their positive human rights obligations. The authors conclude that it is necessary to develop effective mechanisms for cooperation and accountability of social media corporations in the field of international justice, as they play an increasing role in the investigation of serious violations of human rights.

About the authors: Gleb Bogush – Candidate of Sciences (Ph.D.) in Law, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, School of International Law, Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia; Olga Kudinova – MA Student, Faculty of Law, Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia.

Citation: Bogush G., Kudinova O. (2020) Uprava na Facebook: sotsial’nye seti v svete narusheniy prav chelo­veka [Handling Facebook: social media in the light of human rights violations]. Mezhdunarodnoe pravosudie, vol.10, no.4, pp.59–76. (In Russian).


Asher-Schapiro A. (2017) YouTube and Facebook Are Removing Evidence of Atrocities, Jeopardizing Cases against War Criminals. The Intercept, 2 November. Available at: https://theintercept.com/2017/11/02/war-crimes-youtube-facebook-syria-rohingya/ (accessed: 24.11.2020).

Bouie J. (2020) Facebook Has Been a Disaster for the World. The New York Times, 18 September. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/18/opinion/facebook-democracy.html (accessed: 24.11.2020).

Browne M. (2017) YouTube Removes Videos Showing Atrocities in Syria. The New York Times, 22 August. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/22/world/middleeast/syria-youtube-videos-isis.html (accessed: 24.11.2020).

Brustein J. (2020) Facebook Apologizes for Role in Sri Lankan Violence. Bloomberg, 13 May. Available at: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-05-12/facebook-apologizes-for-role-in-sri-lankan-violence (accessed: 24.11.2020).

Goel V., Kumar H., Frenkel Sh. (2018) In Sri Lanka, Facebook Contends With Shutdown after Mob Violence. The New York Times, 8 March. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/08/technology/sri-lanka-facebook-shutdown.html (accessed: 24.11.2020).

Gurkov A.D., Nikiforov I.V., Hendriks G. (2009) Mezhdunarodnaya pravovaya pomoshch’ amerikanskikh sudov v rossiyskikh sudebnykh i arbitrazhnykh protsessakh [International legal assistance of American courts in Russian litigation and arbitration]. Vestnik Vysshego Arbitrazhnogo Suda Rossiyskoy Federatsii, no.9, pp.34–61. Available at: http://www.szrf.ru/szrf/doc.phtml?nb=107&issid=1072009009000&docid=18 (accessed: 24.11.2020). (In Russian).

Irving E. (2017) And So It Begins… Social Media Evidence in an ICC Arrest Warrant. Opinio Juris, 17 August. Available at: http://opiniojuris.org/2017/08/17/and-so-it-begins-social-media-evidence-in-an-icc-arrest-warrant/ (accessed: 24.11.2020).

Irving E. (2018) “The Role of Social Media Is Significant”: Facebook and the Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar. Opinio Juris, 7 September. Available at: http://opiniojuris.org/2018/09/07/the-role-of-social-media-is-significant-facebook-and-the-fact-finding-mission-on-myanmar/ (accessed: 24.11.2020).

Karavias M. (2013) Corporate Obligations under International Law, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McDonald N. (2019) The Role of Due Diligence in International Law. International and Comparative Law Quarterly, vol.68, no.4, pp.1041–1054.

McLaughlin T. (2018) How Facebook’s Rise Fueled Chaos and Confusion in Myanmar. Wired, 7 June. Available at: https://www.wired.com/story/how-facebooks-rise-fueled-chaos-and-confusion-in-myanmar/ (accessed: 24.11.2020).

McPherson P. (2020) Facebook Shares Data on Myanmar with United Nations Investigators. Reuters, 25 August. URL: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-facebook-idUSKBN25L2G4 (accessed: 24.11.2020).

McPherson P. (2020) U.N. Investigator Says Facebook Has Not Shared “Evidence” of Myanmar Crime. Reuters, 11 August. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-facebook-idUSKCN2570K9 (accessed: 24.11.2020).

Pillai P. (2020) The Republic of The Gambia v Facebook, Inc.: Domestic Proceedings, International Implications. Opinio Juris, 8 August. Available at: http://opiniojuris.org/2020/08/08/the-republic-of-the-gambia-v-facebook-inc-domestic-proceedings-international-implications/ (accessed: 24.11.2020).

Ruggie J.G., Sherman J.F., III (2017) The Concept of “Due Diligence” in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: A Reply to Jonathan Bonnitcha and Robert McCorquodale. The European Journal of International Law, vol.28, no.3, pp.921–928.

Slodkowski A. (2018) Facebook Bans Myanmar Army Chief, Others in Unprecedented Move. Reuters, 27 August. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-facebook/facebook-bans-myanmar-army-chief-others-in-unprecedented-move-idUSKCN1LC0R7 (accessed: 24.11.2020).

Timmermann W.K. (2006) Incitement in International Criminal Law. International Review of the Red Cross, vol.88, no.864, pp.823–852.

Wu P. (2015) Impossible to Regulate: Social Media, Terrorists, and the Role for the U.N. Chicago Journal of International Law, vol.16, no.1, pp.281–311.