In Ethiopia, hatred spills over social networks

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On the sidelines of the conflict that has torn apart northern Ethiopia since November 2020, another war is being played out on social networks. Its promoters, whether they are affiliated with the insurgents of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) or with the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his allies, have transposed their conflict on the Web with great blows of disinformation.

A battle of words likely to have very real consequences, while “Possible crimes against humanity” have already been committed in the province of Tigray according to the United Nations.

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Main propaganda channels, Facebook and Twitter are directly singled out. Frances Haugen, the former Facebook employee behind the leak of internal documents known as the “Facebook Files”, expressed concern before a US Senate committee on October 5, “The destructive impact” what the platform risked having on an already extremely polarized Ethiopian society.

These fears are justified in particular by the company’s difficulties in moderating messages from groups speaking local languages ​​such as Amharic, Tigrinya, Oromo or Somali.

Accounts close to the Amhara radicals

One case, in particular, caught the attention of observers, without it being possible to establish a causal link between words and deeds. On August 30, a cluster of Facebook accounts close to Amhara Fano nationalist militiamen accused the Qemant ethnic minority of supporting the TPLF Tigray rebels, calling them « balances ».

Two days later, the 1is September, a group of Fano entered the village of Aykel, on the outskirts of the ancient imperial city of Gondar. According to several sources on the spot, they killed dozens of Qemant and destroyed their homes. The same day, another account called “Popular Force of Fano Patriots for a Radical Change” urged not to have “No humanity for these Qemant caterpillars”.

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This nebula of accounts close to Amhara radicals and openly calling for violence was not unknown to Facebook. Better: it had been the subject of a report and an internal report unveiled by Frances Haugen recommended, from March 2021, to neutralize this network nicknamed “Disarming Lucy” by its creators. However, several of these accounts close to the Fano militiamen are still active today, like the “Fano Amhara Central Command” account, which has around 25,000 subscribers.

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In Ethiopia, hatred spills over social networks

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