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Facebook charged with inflaming a real war

by on15 December 2022

Refused to stop posts that incited violence

Meta has been accused in a lawsuit of letting posts that inflamed the war in Tigray on Facebook, by refusing to block posts calling for violence.

The case follows an Observer investigation in February and has been filed in the high court of Kenya, where Meta’s sub-Saharan African operations are based.

Facebook’s recommendations systems amplified hateful and violent posts in the context of the war in northern Ethiopia, which raged for two years until a ceasefire was agreed in early November. The lawsuit seeks the creation of a $1.6 billion fund for victims of hate speech.

One of the petitioners said his father, an Ethiopian academic, was targeted with racist messages before his murder in November 2021, and that Facebook did not remove the posts despite complaints.

Abrham Meareg, who is ethnic Tigrayan said his father would be alive if Facebook had acted.

“I’m taking Facebook to court so no one ever suffers as my family has again. I’m seeking justice for millions of my fellow Africans hurt by Facebook’s profiteering – and an apology for my father’s murder.”

In February an analysis by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and the Observer found that Facebook was letting users post content inciting violence through hate and misinformation, despite being aware that it helped directly fuel tensions in Tigray, where thousands have died and millions been displaced since war broke out in late 2020.

One post from a local Facebook influencer called for people to “cleanse” the area of supporters of Tigrayan forces. It  stayed up for four months after it was reported to the company. The family of Gebremichael Teweldemedhin, a Tigrayan jeweller abducted last December, believe that post and others like it had resulted in many attacks on Tigrayans in Gondar, a city in the Amhara region.

Amnesty International is one of seven organisations supporting the lawsuit. Amnesty’s deputy regional director, Flavia Mwangovya said the spread of dangerous content on Facebook lies at the heart of Meta’s pursuit of profit, as its systems are designed to keep people engaged.

“This legal action is a significant step in holding Meta to account for its harmful business model.”

Facebook spokesperson Ben Walters told the Associated Press the company could not comment on the lawsuit because it hadn’t received it. He shared a general statement saying: “We have strict rules which outline what is and isn’t allowed on Facebook and Instagram. Hate speech and incitement to violence are against these rules and we invest heavily in teams and technology to help us find and remove this content.” Facebook continues to develop its capabilities to catch violating content in Ethiopia’s most widely spoken languages, the statement said.


Last modified on 15 December 2022
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