Lawsuit accuses social media giant Meta of inflaming Ethiopia’s civil war

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A new lawsuit has accused Meta Platforms META.O of enabling violent and hateful posts from Ethiopia to flourish on Facebook, inflaming the country’s bloody civil war.

The lawsuit, filed in Kenya on Tuesday, was brought by two Ethiopian researchers and Kenyan rights group the Katiba Institute. It alleges Facebook’s recommendations systems amplified violent posts in Ethiopia, including several that preceded the murder of the father of one of the researchers.

The lawsuit also said the company failed to exercise reasonable care in training its algorithms to identify dangerous posts and in hiring staff to police content for the languages covered by its regional moderation hub in Nairobi.

Meta spokesperson Erin McPike said that hate speech and incitement to violence were against the rules of Facebook and Instagram.

“We invest heavily in teams and technology to help us find and remove this content,” McPike added. “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” Ethiopia.

Meta’s independent Oversight Board last year recommended a review of how Facebook and Instagram have been used to spread content that heightens the risk of violence in Ethiopia.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to order Meta to take emergency steps to demote violent content, increase moderation staff in Nairobi and create restitution funds of about $2 billion for victims of violence incited on Facebook.

The lawsuit described Facebook posts published in October 2021 that used ethnic slurs to refer to the father of plaintiff Abrham Meareg. The posts shared the elder man’s address and called for his death. Abrham Mearag reported them to Facebook, but the company declined to remove them promptly or in some cases at all, the lawsuit alleged.

The case carries echoes of accusations Meta has faced for years involving atrocities stoked on its platforms, including in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Cambodia. The company has acknowledged being “too slow” to act in Myanmar and other conflicts. 

Thousands have died and millions have been displaced in the conflict that erupted in 2020 between the Ethiopian government and rebellious forces from the northern Tigray region.


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