Lawsuit Says Facebook Hate Speech Inflamed Ethiopia Civil War

Two Ethiopians are suing Facebook parent Meta, accusing the company of allowing hate speech to flourish amid their country’s deadly ethnic conflict in the Tigray region.The suit, filed in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, alleges Facebook is violating the Kenyan Constitution and demands more than $2 billion in restitution, per NBC News. The plaintiffs say

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Two Ethiopians are suing Facebook parent Meta, accusing the company of allowing hate speech to flourish amid their country’s deadly ethnic conflict in the Tigray region.

The suit, filed in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, alleges Facebook is violating the Kenyan Constitution and demands more than $2 billion in restitution, per NBC News. The plaintiffs say Facebook, which launched a hub in Nairobi in 2019, devotes far fewer resources to content moderation than in the U.S., allowing lethal misinformation to go viral during Ethiopia’s civil war.

One plaintiff is the son of Meareg Amare Abrha, a chemistry professor in Tigray who was followed home by militants last year and fatally shot after comments on Facebook singled him out.

“My father didn’t get any chance to convince people that he was innocent,” Abrham Meareg, also a professor, told NBC News. “He didn’t get the choice to clarify the hate speech and disinformation. They just shot him and killed him in a brutal way.”

Former Amnesty International human rights researcher Fisseha Tekle is the second plaintiff in the lawsuit, which seeks class-action status.

Meta spokesperson Mike DelMoro said Facebook has “strict rules that outline what is and isn’t allowed” and works to “catch violating content,” the outlet reported. Facebook said in a November 2021 news release that Ethiopia was “an especially challenging environment … because there are multiple languages spoken in the country.”

Amnesty International said Facebook’s failure to police hate speech isn’t confined to Africa. The group earlier this year accused Facebook of facilitating atrocities in Myanmar.

Kenyan lawyer Mercy Mutemi (center) addresses the press after filing the lawsuit.
Kenyan lawyer Mercy Mutemi (center) addresses the press after filing the lawsuit.

YASUYOSHI CHIBA via Getty Images

Myanmar “killed, tortured, raped, and displaced” thousands of Rohingya people in 2017 after Facebook’s algorithms fanned “a storm of hatred,” Amnesty International’s secretary general, Agnès Callamard, said.

In Ethiopia, a Facebook page boasting 50,000 followers targeted Bahir Dar University staff like Abrha, posting his photo and claiming he had participated in massacres and was cooperating with the military.

“These posts were a death sentence for my father,” Meareg said, according to NBC.

Berhanu Jula (left), the chief of staff of the Ethiopian Armed Forces and Gen. Tadesse Worede (right), the commander-in-chief of the Tigray rebel forces, agree to a cease-fire in Nairobi on Nov. 12, 2src22.
Berhanu Jula (left), the chief of staff of the Ethiopian Armed Forces and Gen. Tadesse Worede (right), the commander-in-chief of the Tigray rebel forces, agree to a cease-fire in Nairobi on Nov. 12, 2022.

YASUYOSHI CHIBA via Getty Images

Ethiopia’s two-year Tigray conflict killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions before a cease-fire last month, per The New York Times.

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