Ethiopians sue Meta over war hate speech

Nairobi, Kenya –

Two Ethiopians have filed a lawsuit against Facebook parent Meta for what they say is allowing and even promoting hate speech on the social media platform amid the furor over the country’s deadly Tigray clashes.

Former Amnesty International human rights researcher Fisseha Tekle was one of the petitioners in the case filed Wednesday, along with the son of university professor Meareg Amare, who was killed weeks after a Facebook post inciting violence against him.

The case was filed in neighboring Kenya, where the platform’s Ethiopia-linked content moderation operations are based. Meta did not hire enough content moderators there, it used an algorithm that prioritized hateful content, and it was slower to respond to crises in Africa than elsewhere in the world, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit, also backed by the Katiba Institute, a Kenyan legal organization, aims to create a $1.6 billion fund for victims of hate speech.

Facebook spokesman Ben Walters told The Associated Press they could not comment on the lawsuit because they had not yet received it. He shared a general statement: “We have strict rules outlining what is and isn’t allowed on Facebook and Instagram. Hate speech and inciting violence are against these rules, and we invest heavily in our team and technology to Help us find and remove this content.” It said Facebook continued to develop its capabilities to catch offending content in Ethiopia’s most widely spoken language.

The two-year-long conflict in Tigray in Ethiopia is thought to have killed hundreds of thousands of people. The warring sides signed a peace agreement last month.

“This legal action is an important step towards holding Meta accountable for its harmful business model,” Amnesty’s Flavia Mwangovya said in a statement, noting that the Facebook posts targeting its former researchers and professors were not isolated cases.

The Associated Press and a dozen other outlets explored last year how Facebook failed to moderate hate speech quickly and effectively in cases around the world, including in Ethiopia. The reports are based on internal documents obtained by whistleblower Francis Haugen.

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