Meta is being sued by the son of the victim in Ethiopia

According to a lawsuit, Facebook’s algorithm encouraged the viral spread of violence and hatred during the civil conflict in Ethiopia.

One of those initiating the case against Meta is Abrham Meareg, the son of an Ethiopian academic who was shot dead after being abused in Facebook messages.

Both a $2 billion (£1.6 billion) fund for victims of hate crimes on Facebook and adjustments to the algorithm are demanded.

According to Meta, it extensively invested in technology and moderation to combat hate.

Hate speech and the instigation of violence, according to a spokesman, are prohibited on the site.

The official stated, “Feedback from local civil society organizations and foreign institutions is used to influence our safety- and integrity-related work in Ethiopia.

famine-like circumstances
Campaign organization Foxglove is in favor of the case, which was brought before Kenya’s High Court.

In the Kenyan capital Nairobi, Meta operates a hub for content moderation.

400,000 additional people are currently experiencing famine-like circumstances as a result of the conflict between the Ethiopian government and forces in the northern Tigray region.

Although a sudden peace agreement was reached last month, ethnically motivated killings between Amhara- and Oromo-speaking groups have increased recently.

The father of Mr. Meareg perished in the country’s conflict last year.

Prof. Meareg Amare Abrha was shot at close range while attempting to enter the family house on November 3, 2021, after being trailed home from his institution by armed men on motorcycles.

As he lay bleeding, bystanders were barred from helping because of threats from his attackers, according to his son. Seven hours later, while he lay on the ground, he passed away.

His son claims that before to the incident, Facebook posts defamed him and exposed personal information about him.

Facebook’s reporting feature was frequently used to file concerns, but the social media site “kept these posts up until it was far too late.”

After the death of his father, one was taken out.

As of December 8, 2022, another that the platform had promised to take down was still available.

“Woefully insufficient,” Mr. Meareg added. “My father would still be alive if Facebook had only halted the spread of hate and vetted messages correctly.”

As well as “a personal apology” from Meta, he said he wanted to make sure no other family experienced the same suffering as his.

Mr. Meareg claims in a sworn affidavit submitted to the court that Facebook’s algorithm encourages “hateful and inciting” information because it is more likely to generate user interaction.

Additionally, he asserts that Facebook’s content filtering in Africa is “woefully inadequate,” as there aren’t enough moderators to handle posts in the important Amharic, Oromo, and Tigrinya languages.

“We employ personnel with local knowledge and expertise and continue to enhance our capacities to catch offending content in the most widely spoken languages in the nation, including Amharic, Oromo, Somali, and Tigrinya,” Meta, the company that owns Facebook, said BBC News.

Despite the fact that less than 10% of the population uses Facebook, it insists that Ethiopia is a top priority and lists the efforts it has made as follows:

lowering the virality of messages, enhancing enforcement, and increasing laws against violence and incitement

Nairobi-based BBC Reality Check’s Peter Mwai analysis
An effort to legally hold a social media firm accountable for its acts during the crisis in Ethiopia is a significant move.

Critics claim that Meta and other social media firms don’t do enough to stop the dissemination of misinformation and content that incites hatred and violence against different racial and ethnic groups. Additionally, sometimes it takes too long to delete stuff, usually after someone reports it.

Others contend that the business has been unfair in its war on hate speech, disproportionately targeting messages that are written in certain languages.

Meta has consistently emphasized how much it does and how much it has invested in its ability to detect offensive and divisive information in the national languages.

Although it uses artificial intelligence and local partners to identify content, it does have content moderators that are fluent in the major local languages. It’s also unclear how many moderators Meta employs to focus on Ethiopia.

Facebook has, however, previously been criticized for not doing enough to halt the dissemination of materials encouraging racial hatred and violence in Ethiopia.

Former employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen testified to the US Senate in 2021 that the platform’s algorithm was “fanning ethnic violence… picking up the extreme sentiments, the division” because those posts attracted high engagement, but that Facebook was unable to adequately identify dangerous content and lacked sufficient proficiency in many local languages, including some spoken in Ethiopia.

The Katiba Institute and Fisseha Tekle, who claims that Facebook’s moderation errors made it difficult for him to report on the war for Amnesty International and put the lives of his family at jeopardy, are also plaintiffs in the case.

They are requesting that the court compel Facebook to take the following actions to address the issue:

Employing enough moderators to translate local content, ensuring equity between the moderation in Nairobi and that for US users, and setting up a restitution fund of about 200 billion Kenyan shillings (Ksh) ($1.6 billion) for victims of hate and violence incited on Facebook and a further 50 billion Ksh for similar harm from sponsored posts.

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