Facebook accused of fueling violence amid Ethiopian Civil War

  • A group of Ethiopian researchers are seeking $2 billion in damages from Meta.
  • They claim that the company’s Facebook platform was used to spread hate and incite violence during the country’s civil war, leading to the deaths of one plaintiff’s father.
  • Earlier this year it was found that the Facebook platform played a key role in inciting violence during the 2017 Rohingya genocide in Myanmar.

Ethiopia’s Federal Government recently signed a peace treaty with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) after two years of bloody civil war rocked the Horn of Africa nation.

The peace treaty was signed in November 2022, with South Africa actually playing a big part in the signing of the treaty. But in the two years that the conflict raged it is believed that 385 000 to 600 000 people, from soldiers to civilians, lost their lives. The highest estimates sit around 800 000 deaths.

One of the people who lost their life during the conflict was Mearag Amare, a professor of chemistry at the Bahir Dar University of Ethiopia.

Amare, ethnically Tigrayan, was gunned down outside his home in 2021 after a series of Facebook posts alleged that he had stolen equipment from the university, sold it and used the money to buy property. In the comments of these posts were people calling for his death.

The posts also included information about where Amare lived and other identifying data.

Amare’s son, fellow researcher Abrham Amare, tried to communicate with Facebook to have the posts removed. The Meta-owned social media platform only removed the posts eight days after Abrham’s father was slain.

Abrham Amare says he holds Facebook and Meta personally responsible for his father’s death and has joined a lawsuit with fellow researchers and legal adviser Fisseha Tekle in Kenya against the social media powerhouse.

Meta has a content moderation hub in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.

The lawsuit accuses Meta of allowing hate speech to flourish on its Facebook platform during the war, fueling widespread violence and misery, according to Wired.

Further, the suit calls for the deprioritisation of hateful content on the platform, and for Meta to add to its content moderation staff. The BBC reports that those behind the suit are seeking $2 billion for the victims of hate on Facebook like Amare and his family.

“If Facebook had just stopped the spread of hate and moderated posts properly, my father would still be alive,” Amare said. He further alleges that Facebook’s algorithms promote “hateful and inciting” content.

Amare claims that Meta’s content moderation in Africa is inadequate and that it does not have enough moderators to oversee content in local languages like Amharic, Oromo and Tigrinya.

“We employ staff with local knowledge and expertise and continue to develop our capabilities to catch violating content in the most widely spoken languages in the country, including Amharic, Oromo, Somali and Tigrinya,” Meta told the BBC.

It added that even though less than 10 percent of Ethiopians use Facebook, it has taken steps to expand violence and incitement policies in the country, and reduce the virality of certain posts.

Earlier this year, it was found that Meta’s “dangerous algorithms and reckless pursuit of profit substantially contributed to the atrocities perpetrated by the Myanmar military against the Rohingya people in 2017,” according to a report published by Amnesty International.

Thousands of Rohingya people, an ethnic minority in Myanmar, were slaughtered and 700 000 fled the country in fear after Facebook was used to incite pogroms against them in 2017.

“We weren’t doing enough to help prevent our platform from being used to foment division and incite offline violence. We agree that we can and should do more,” Alex Warofka, product policy manager, wrote at the time.

Meta said that it has made strides in strengthening its policies after the genocide in Myanmar but the allegations about violence in Ethiopia could pour new gasoline on the fire.

[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]


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