Reports over Facebook’s role in the dissemination of hateful content, misinformation and political unrest have emerged this week. A whistleblower called Frances Haugen, former employee of Facebook, accused the company of intentionally amplifying hateful and disinformation content in countries like Ethiopia.
She alleged that Facebook has a role in fanning ethnic violence in Ethiopia by amplifying hateful and divisive content.
Facebook has been one of the largest platforms where disinformation and other ill contents have been disseminated during the ongoing armed conflict in Ethiopia. HaqCheck has debunked multiple false claims with intentions of hate and disinformation for the last 11 months.
“One in five people have mental health problem in Ethiopia”
As World Mental Health Day was celebrated on October 10, mental well-being has been one of the major topics of discussion in the past week. While different reports were circulating to create awareness about mental health, one that caught the attention of many was the claim that “one in five people have a mental health problem in Ethiopia.”
Mental health problem is often associated with the condition most commonly known as Schizophrenia. However according to WHO, mental health problem includes depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other psychoses, dementia, and developmental disorders including autism. In this regard the issue that raised controversy - “one in five people suffers from mental health problems' - refers to collective disorders in the category of mental illness, not only one specific disorder as explained by professionals.
This week, social media information disorder was higher than the previous one , among which reports of fresh offensives and counter-offensives had been the most highlighted topic . The belligerents have accused each other of launching offensives and of resorting to a violent means to the resolution of the armed conflict. Both issued statements trying to influence the local and international communities.
As such reports reached a crescendo, social media disinformation campaigns and controversies began to emanate from the social media. Images and posts on social media emerged claiming that the ‘enemy side’ was being destroyed and taken advantage of.
HaqCheck fact-checked an image posted earlier last week on Facebook with a claim that the federal-government-led forces already started an offensive using drones, air, and infantry. The image attached to the post to prove the claim shows a burning and destroyed vehicle. The Facebook post has earned more than 55 shares on the platform.
The image actually shows a vehicle set on fire by protesters in the Oromia Regional State in 2016. The incident happened during the Irreecha celebration in which many Oromo youths died in a stampede during a crackdown to suppress an ongoing protest. Consequently, a string of violent responses blazed all over Oromia triggered by the saddening casualties. In one of such incidents protesters destroyed public and private properties belonging to the Nigerian investor Aliko Dangote. This included his cement factory in the town of Ada Berga was attacked and trucks were destroyed. The burning vehicle in the image was one of the vehicles of the tycoon’s cement factory that were smashed by the protesters.
As the armed conflict in the northern part of the country has persisted, the Ethiopian National Defense Force has been engaged in a concerted effort of recruiting new members and conducting training of cadets in various training camps.
People of fame, riches, and higher government authorities have attended graduation ceremonies in different military training camps.
Relevant to the matter, a video was published on a YouTube channel, website, and Facebook page with more than 484,277 followers claiming that Tewodros Kasahun, aka Teddy Afro, a popular singer, surprisingly arrived in Tolay Military Training Center and entertained the recruits.
The video clip has got more than 20,900 and 1,108 views respectively on the website and YouTube, and more than 60 shares and 1,700 reactions on Facebook.
The video is found to be manipulated and fake. HaqCheck looked into the thumbnail of the video and confirmed that it is photoshopped. The thumbnail of the clip was manipulatively arranged by cutting an image of the singer’s head into another man among a crowd of recruits. Moreover, the video is made up of a slideshow of various pictures of the vocalist and the army troops.
In our overview of disinformation trends through the week, we came across a social media content considered to potentially fuel the information disorder in Ethiopia.
We could learn that this YouTube video has the power to incite violence and promote hate speech. The video featuring an interview with a “Fano” militia trainer circulating on social media had raised controversies. The interviewee in the video was heard saying that they will kill hundreds of others for the killing of one of their own people.
HaqCheck recommends that media outlets should refrain from echoing hateful and misinformative content that potentially incites violence.
We would like to appeal to large international social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Telegram to commit the due effort to prevent disinformation campaigns. We also urge that they should consider collaborating with local fact-checking initiatives in order to effectively verify claims before reaching many and incite violences.
HaqCheck calls upon government authorities to permit full access to information to media organizations and journalists so that the public can obtain sufficient information regarding matters that affect their lives.
Social media users are also advised to be conscious of the origin and intention of the unverified information they read and share with others. They should identify trustable pages and sources to understand the intention and credibility of the posts and claims.
HaqCheck is a local multilingual fact-checking project based in Ethiopia, formed inside Addis Zeybe’s newsroom, now Inform Africa’s Counter Disinformation Project - a board-led Civil Society Organization (CSO) - dedicated to verifying media contents from social to the mainstream. HaqCheck works in collaboration with media outlets to monitor media contents in English and four local languages (Amharic, Afaan Oromo, Tigrigna, and Somali).
This report is produced with the support of UNESCO under the #CoronavirusFacts: Addressing the ‘Disinfodemic’ on COVID-19 in conflict-prone Environments that the UNESCO Addis Ababa Office is implementing in Ethiopia with financial support from the European Union (EU). The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of UNESCO or the EU concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city, or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. The ideas and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UNESCO or The European Union and do not commit these organizations in any way.