Facebook owner Meta sued for inciting hatred in Ethiopia
A new lawsuit has been filed against Facebook parent company Meta, claiming that the platform enabled the incitement of hatred in Etihiopia's civil war.
The suit was filed in Kenya on Tuesday by two Ethiopian researchers and a Kenyan rights group, the Katiba Institute. According to court documents, the plaintiffs accuse Meta of not only failing to moderate violent posts about the country's conflict in the Tigray region, but also amplifying the most virulent ones.
One of these posts preceded the murder of a plaintiff's father, their filing said.
Abrham Amare, a researcher and son of chemistry professor Meareg Amare, said that his father was targeted by a series of threatening posts because he was ethnically Tigrayan. He reported the posts, some of them shared over 50,000 times, to Facebook because they contained his father's address and called for his death.
Eight days after the elder Amare was murdered, Facebook finally removed the post, according to the researcher.
Meta rejects accusations
The company denied the claims and said they "invest heavily in teams and technology" to remove hateful content.
"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 spokesperson Erin McPike said.
Last year, Meta's independent oversight board recommended that Facebook and Instagram make changes to counter how the platforms were being used to spread hateful messages in Ethiopia
But, according to the plaintiffs, little change actually materialized. They are now asking the court to force Meta, whose regional content moderation hub is in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, to implement emergency measures to restrict violent content and increase moderation staff. They are also seeking restitution funds of around $2 billion (€1.88 billion) for the victims of violence incited on their platforms.
The suit is not the first time Meta and Facebook have been accused of doing too little, too late when violence is being fomented on their sites. Similar accusations have been made in Myanmar, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Cambodia. Meta has faced repeated allegations of failing to hire enough moderation staff familiar with local languages and culture.
Since the renewed outbreak of violence between separatists and the government in Tigray in 2020, thousands have been killed and millions more displaced. However, a peace deal signed last month appears to be holding despite continued tensions.