Meta has been accused of enabling violent and hateful posts from Ethiopia to flourish on Facebook in a new lawsuit.
Filed in Kenya, the suit claims the social media giant’s actions have inflamed the country’s civil war between the government and rebellious forces from the northern Tigray region, which has seen thousands of people killed and millions displaced.
It was brought against Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, by two Ethiopian researchers and Kenyan rights group the Katiba Institute.
They have argued that Facebook’s recommendations system amplified violent posts in Ethiopia, including several that preceded the murder of Abrham Mearag, the father of one of the researchers.
The lawsuit described Facebook posts published in October 2021 that used ethnic slurs to refer to Mr Meareg, shared his address and called for his death.
Mr Mearag reported them to Facebook at the time, but the company declined to remove them promptly or in some
cases at all, the lawsuit claims.
Meta has also been accused of failing to exercise reasonable care in training its algorithms to identify dangerous
posts and in hiring staff to police content for the languages covered in Nairobi.
What does Meta have to say about the claims?
The company has said hate speech and incitement to violence were against the rules of Facebook and Instagram.
“We invest heavily in teams and technology to help us find and remove this content,” Meta spokesperson Erin McPike said.
He added: “We employ staff with local knowledge and expertise and continue to develop our capabilities to catch violating content in the most widely spoken languages in Ethiopia.”
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The plaintiffs are asking the court to order Meta to take emergency steps to demote violent content, increase moderation
staff in Nairobi and create restitution funds of about $2bn (£1.6bn) for victims of violence incited on Facebook.
The case carries echoes of accusations Meta has faced for years involving atrocities stoked on its platforms, including in
Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Cambodia.
Last year, the company’s independent Oversight Board recommended a review of how Facebook and Instagram have been used to spread content that heightens the risk of violence in Ethiopia.