A $2 billion lawsuit alleged that Meta’s algorithm helped fuel hate and violence that killed hundreds of thousands in Ethiopia’s civil war.
Starting in November 2020, Ethiopian government forces waged total war against Tigrayan rebels with the help of Eritrea. Between November 2020 and November 2022, intense fighting and famine killed an estimated 385,000-600,000, according to researchers from the University of Ghent, the Globe and Mail reported.
Among those killed in the violence around the conflict was Meareg Amare Abrha, a Tigrayan professor who was murdered by gunmen on Nov. 3, 2021, the BBC reported. Abrha was murdered shortly after being targeted in inflammatory Facebook posts. His son, Abrham Meareg, believes the Facebook posts were responsible for his death and that those posts were boosted by Meta’s algorithm. He is seeking an apology along with $2 billion in damages.
“If Facebook had just stopped the spread of hate and moderated posts properly, my father would still be alive,” Meareg said.
Meareg claims he used Facebook’s reporting tool to report violent threats against his father, yet his reports were largely ignored. The threats in question slandered and revealed identifying information about his father, which goes against the platform’s terms of service. Meareg claims that Meta not only allows such posts to stay up but actually boosts them, as they attract more engagement.
One post cited by Meareg remains up despite Meta’s promise to remove it.
The case was filed in Kenya’s High Court; Meta has a content moderation hub in the country’s capital of Nairobi. Meareg claims that the content moderation team at the hub is woefully inadequate and lacks enough moderators in key languages such as Amharic, Oromo, and Tigrinya.
Meta denies Meareg’s claims about the adequacy of their content moderation team in Africa.
“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,” a Meta spokesman told the BBC.
The lawsuit is supported by several human rights institutions and activists, including the Katiba Institute, Foxglove, and Fisseha Tekle. The $2 billion being sought in damages is to be sent to a restitution fund for victims of hate and violence incited on Facebook, the BBC reported.
Though the fragile peace between Tigray and the Ethiopian government has held since Nov. 3, violence broke out last month elsewhere between the government and the Oromia region, Foreign Policy reported.