May 19, 2024

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Technology and Age

Slain Ethiopian professor’s son sues Facebook in Kenya

Slain Ethiopian professor's son sues Facebook in Kenya

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The son of an Ethiopian academic who was murdered during the country’s ongoing violence has filed a lawsuit against Facebook parent company Meta in Kenya’s High Court, alleging the social media giant is fueling violence and hate across eastern and southern Africa.

Abrham Meareg Amare claims in the lawsuit that his father, Meareg Amare Abrha, a Tigrayan professor, was gunned down in November 2021 after he was targeted on Facebook with hateful and inaccurate posts. He said he tried to get Facebook to remove some of the problematic content — including a post with a photo of his father — but he didn’t receive a response until after his father was killed.

“If Facebook had just stopped the spread of hate and moderated posts properly, my father would still be alive,” he said in a statement. “I’m seeking justice for millions of my fellow Africans hurt by Facebook’s profiteering — and an apology for my father’s murder.”

The lawsuit alleges that Facebook’s algorithms are more likely to promote hateful and violent content because that attracts engagement on the platform. The legal filing also claims that Meta underinvests in content moderation in countries in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. Meareg is bringing the lawsuit along with at least another Ethiopian researcher and a Kenyan civil society group, the Katiba Institute.

Meta spokesperson Erin McPike said in a statement that the company uses feedback from civil society organizations and international institutions to guide its policies and safety work in Ethiopia. “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 the country, including Amharic, Oromo, Somali and Tigrinya,” McPike said.

Ethiopian guards massacred scores of Tigrayan prisoners, witnesses say

The lawsuit is being filed amid a bloody conflict in Ethiopia. The war started in the fall of 2020 after Tigrayans held their own elections in defiance of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The TPLF, a regional political party, had ruled the country for three decades before Abiy came to power in 2018. When TPLF forces attacked an Ethiopian military base in Tigray, Abiy, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, launched a military offensive.

The war has been marked by accusations of severe atrocities. A report by the United Nations last year found that both sides had “committed violations of international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law, some of which may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

Facebook has been accused of allowing posts to fuel violence in other conflicts, most notably in Myanmar, where a U.N. fact-finding mission said it had played a role in the genocide and displacement of the Rohingya minority. A lawsuit attempting to hold Meta responsible for spreading hate speech and misinformation against the Rohingya was filed in federal court in California last year.