Meta has been sued in Ethiopia and other East African countries by human rights groups after an observer investigation uncovered frequent inaction on Facebook posts that incited violence and prolonged fighting in the Tigray region.
The lawsuit claims that Facebook’s algorithms amplified hateful and violent posts in the context of the war in northern Ethiopia, which raged for two years before a ceasefire was agreed upon in early November. The lawsuit was filed in the high court of Kenya, where Meta’s sub-Saharan African operations are based. A $1.6 billion (£1.3 billion) fund for victims of hate speech is demanded in the complaint.
One of the activists said that racist statements on Facebook led to the persecution of his father, until his death in November 2021. Abrham Meareg, a Tigrayan, stated that his father would still be alive if only Facebook had curbed the dissemination of hate and properly vetted messages. “I’m suing Facebook so that no one ever experiences the same suffering as my family has. I want Facebook to apologize for my father’s murder and bring justice to the millions of my fellow Africans who were harmed by its business practices in Tigray.” He added.
The activists are demanding a whopping 200 billion Kenyan shillings (£1.3 billion) as compensation for Facebook users who have been the victims of hate and violence during the period of the war.
An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and the Observer in February revealed that Facebook was allowing users to post hateful and misleading content that directly fueled tensions in Tigray, where thousands have died and millions have been displaced since fighting broke out in late 2020. Facebook was found to have known about this practice.
According to the study, a local influencer’s post encouraging people to clear their neighborhoods of those who support the Tigrayan army stayed online for four months after it was reported to the company. According to the family of Gebremichael Teweldemedhin, a Tigrayan jeweler who was kidnapped last December, that post and others like it led to several attacks on Tigrayans in the Amhara city of Gondar.
One of the seven organizations backing the lawsuit is Amnesty International. According to Flavia Mwangovya, deputy regional director for Amnesty International, “the propagation of harmful content on Facebook sits at the heart of Meta’s quest for profit, as its mechanisms are meant to keep people engaged.” This legal lawsuit is an important step in making Meta accountable for its destructive business strategy.
Fisseha Tekle, an employee of Amnesty International, claimed that social media is how Ethiopians get their news and information. “Human rights advocates are now the focus of hatred and threats due to the hate and misinformation on Facebook. “I have witnessed how Facebook dynamics damaged my own human rights work, and I’m hopeful that this case will help change that.”
Ben Walters, a spokesman for Facebook, told the Associated Press that because the business hadn’t received the case, it couldn’t comment on it. “We have strong regulations outlining what is and isn’t allowed on Facebook and Instagram,” he said in a broad statement. We actively invest in teams and technology to help us locate and delete anything that violates our principles and incites hatred and violence. According to the statement, Facebook is continually improving its ability to detect illegal content in the languages that are most commonly spoken in Ethiopia.
Facebook has received criticism for continually expanding into nations with low media literacy, growing quickly to account for a significant portion of local internet traffic, and failing to allocate enough resources to moderation in the local languages. That is how it is used in Myanmar, where the site is subject to compensation claims totaling more than £150 billion as a result of legal actions that were started in the US and the UK in December.
In 2018, Facebook acknowledged that it had not done enough to stop the promotion of violence and hate speech against the Muslim minority of Myanmar known as the Rohingya. According to an independent study that was commissioned by the business, “Facebook has become a tool for people looking to sow division and harm, and posts have been linked to offline violence.” The UN further criticized the firm for playing a “leading role” in the potential genocide.