By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network
NEW YORK (IDN) — A proliferation of incendiary hate speech has turned up on social media’s Facebook for Ethiopia in ads that call for people to be killed, starved or ‘cleansed’ from an area, compare people to animals and call for genocide.
Phrases used are highly offensive and dehumanizing. Several posts amounted to a call for genocide. None of the sentences was dog-whistles or in any way difficult to interpret or mistake.
Whistle blower Frances Haugen, an advocate for accountability and transparency in social media, was among the first to show how Facebook exacerbates hostilities by ‘literally fanning ethnic violence’.
A new investigation by Global Witness, done in partnership with legal non-profit Foxglove and independent researcher Dagim Afework Mekonnen, has exposed how Facebook failed to detect hate speech in the main language of Ethiopia. It follows from a previous investigation which showed the same in Myanmar.
In its defence, Facebook called Ethiopia ‘one of our highest priorities for country-specific interventions to keep people safe’. For more than two years, they alleged, they have invested in safety and security measures ‘including building our capacity to catch hateful and inflammatory content in the languages that are spoken most widely in the country’.
Specifically, they claimed that they had employed more staff who speak Amharic and that they have the technology to automatically identify hate speech in Amharic. Their efforts are ‘industry-leading’, they said.
Facebook’s ‘industry-leading’ hate speech detection was put to the test to see if their alleged safety and security measures could really prevent ads that fuel violence.
“We picked out the worst cases we could think of,” said Rosie Sharpe, an activist with Global Witness and director of Foxglove, a London-based legal non-profit. “The ones that ought to be the easiest for Facebook to detect. They weren’t coded language. They weren’t dog whistles. They were explicit statements saying that this type of person is not a human, or these types of people should be starved to death.”
All of the hate speech examples had previously been reported to Facebook as violating their community standards and the majority had been removed from Facebook. Equal numbers of hate speech examples targeted the three main ethnic groups of the country, the Amhara, Oromo and Tigrayans.
None of the ads were ultimately published but were deleted once Facebook had determined whether the ads had been approved for publication or not.
All 12 of the ads had been accepted by Facebook for publication.
In November, Meta, the owner of Facebook and other social media platforms, said it removed a post by Ethiopia’s prime minister that urged citizens to rise up and “bury” rival Tigray forces who threatened the country’s capital.
In the since-deleted post, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had said the “obligation to die for Ethiopia belongs to all of us.” He called on citizens to mobilize “by holding any weapon or capacity.”
Abiy has continued to post on the platform, though, where he has 4.1 million followers. The U.S. and others have warned Ethiopia about “dehumanizing rhetoric” after the prime minister described the Tigray forces as “cancer” and “weeds” in comments made in July 2021.
“When ads calling for genocide in Ethiopia repeatedly get through Facebook’s net—even after the issue is flagged with Facebook—there’s only one possible conclusion: there’s nobody home,” said Curling.
All the ads would have breached the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination had they been published.
Rather than helping to unify the country, Facebook has simply amplified existing tensions on a massive scale, wrote David Gilbert of VICE News.
Berhan Taye, Africa policy lead at digital rights group Access Now, told VICE News: “Facebook’s inaction helps propagate hate and polarization in a country and has a devastating impact on the narrative and extent of the violence.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 11 July 2022]
IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.
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