Amnesty International report finds Meta contributed to human rights abuses against Tigrayan community in Ethiopia News
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Amnesty International report finds Meta contributed to human rights abuses against Tigrayan community in Ethiopia

Amnesty International on Monday accused Meta, the parent company of Facebook, of contributing to human rights abuses against the Tigrayan community in Ethiopia, stemming from an armed conflict between forces aligned with Ethiopia’s federal government and forces affiliated with Tigray’s regional government. Amnesty International says the abuses escalated to war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the crime of ethnic cleansing. The conflict resulted in the deaths of up to 600,000 civilians.

According to Amnesty International’s report, Facebook allowed the dissemination of content targeting the Tigrayan community which incited violence and advocated hatred. Such content included sentiments by the then-Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed who through a public statement said, “The enemy we are facing is an enemy which is the cancer of Ethiopia. The junta is probably the only group in history that used its political power to disintegrate its own country.” Amnesty claimed that the spreading of such content through Facebook without regulation fueled the existing conflict. Additionally, Meta received warnings from the civil society actors in Ethiopia who urged it to take action to address emerging risks, which Amnesty says it ignored.

The report further claimed that the rapid dissemination of the content on Facebook was facilitated by Meta’s content-shaping algorithms and business model. In describing the algorithms and the business model, the report stated:

This business model relies on incentivizing people to stay on the platform for as long as possible in order to collect even more data on them for the purpose of targeted advertising. In furtherance of this aim, Meta’s content-shaping algorithms are tuned to maximize engagement, and to boost content that is inflammatory, harmful, divisive, as this is what tends to garner the most attention from users. In the context of the northern Ethiopia conflict, these algorithms fueled devastating human rights impacts, amplifying content targeting the Tigrayan community across face book, Ethiopia’s most popular social-media platform – including content which advocated hatred and incited violence, hostility and discrimination.

Commenting on Meta’s alleged role in inciting violence and spreading misinformation, US Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) stated that Facebook lacked automated systems that could flag harmful posts in Amharic and Oromo, the languages spoken in Ethiopia, which were used to incite violence against ethnic minorities. However, he noted that, even in languages that Meta had experience in, Meta’s systems appeared to be woefully inadequate at preventing violent hate speech from appearing on Facebook.

In its defense, Meta stated that it had taken steps to address the problem by establishing a due diligence approach and stakeholder engagement in Ethiopia since 2020. Responding to the allegations made in the Amnesty report, Meta disagreed with the findings of the report but stated that it was unable to comment further due to pending litigation which involves civil litigation in Kenya for its alleged contribution to human rights abuses in Ethiopia.

Meta has previously been in the spotlight over claims that it spreads content inciteful and hateful content across the globe, including in in Myanmar, Russia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and South Sudan. To avert this, Meta has previously put in efforts towards regulating such content by establishing an oversight board that offers recommendations on how to balance freedom of speech with harm reduction.