Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict: What are Facebook and Twitter doing about hate speech?

Social media giants Facebook and Twitter have come under fire over their roles in the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia.

Critics say they are not doing enough to prevent the spread of hate speech and incitement to violence on their platforms, but that has been rejected by the companies.

We’ve looked at some examples and what is being done to deal with them. 

How influential is social media in Ethiopia?

Only about 10% of the population in Ethiopia uses Facebook, according to the company. There are relatively low rates of internet adoption in the country and a lack of broadband infrastructure in some areas.

However, social media is widely used by Ethiopians abroad, and Facebook posts by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed regularly receive tens of thousands of likes and thousands of shares.

The Ethiopian government – and those who oppose it – track what appears on social media closely.

For example, Facebook – whose parent company is now called Meta – was publicly criticised by the government because it removed a post by Mr Abiy urging citizens to “bury” Tigrayan rebels, who were advancing southwards.

“Organisations like Facebook, that has been used to spread violence, has shown its true colours by deleting our prime minister’s message,” a government statement said.

A Meta spokesperson told the BBC: “At Meta, we remove content from individuals or organisations that violates our community standards, no matter who they are.”

How much hate speech is there? 

Rights group Amnesty International says it has noted a significant rise in social media posts in the current conflict that have clearly incited violence and used ethnic slurs, noting that many of these “have gone unchecked”.

Last month, Facebook whistle-blower Frances Haugen said of the social media giant’s engagement-based ranking: “In places like Ethiopia, it’s literally fanning ethnic violence.”

There are also examples of incitements to violence on other platforms like Twitter. 

Social media post in support of a Tigrayan group
Image caption, Post calling on Facebook users to report content with hate speech

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