According to a new lawsuit, Meta Platforms (META.O) allowed violent and hateful posts from Ethiopia to flourish on Facebook, escalating the country’s bloody civil war. The lawsuit was filed in Kenya on Tuesday by two Ethiopian researchers and the Katiba Institute, a Kenyan rights organization. It claims that Facebook’s recommendation systems amplify violent posts in Ethiopia, including several that preceded the murder of one of the researchers’ fathers.
Ethiopian professor Abrham Meareg, who is seeking political asylum in the United States, is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. He claims his father was killed by militants last year during Ethiopia’s ongoing civil war as a result of incitement spread on Facebook.
Meareg Amare Abrha, Meareg’s father, was a well-known chemistry professor and Tigrayan ethnic group member. According to an affidavit Meareg filed in the case, he was murdered on Nov. 3, 2021, when a group of men on motorbikes followed him from the university and shot him twice in front of his home. When militants took over the family home, Meareg’s mother fled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital.
The lawsuit also said the company failed to exercise reasonable care in training its algorithms to identify dangerous posts and in hiring staff to police content in the languages covered by its regional moderation hub in Nairobi.
“If Facebook had just stopped the spread of hate and moderated posts properly, my father would still be alive,” Mr. Meareg said. He wanted to ensure that no other family suffered as he had, and he received a “personal apology” from Meta. In a sworn statement filed with the court, Mr. Meareg alleges Facebook’s algorithm promotes “hateful and inciting” content because it is likely to draw more interaction from users.
He also claims Facebook’s content moderation in Africa is “woefully inadequate,” with too few moderators who deal with posts in key languages like Amharic, Oromo, and Tigrinya.