Misinformation and disinformation can come in the form of news, images, graphics, videos, or social media posts that are created to deliberately misinform or deceive its audience. Throughout the month of October, a fresh news batch of disputed content emerged.
During the first week of October a number of different controversies circulated on social media. This included CNN accusing Ethiopian Airlines of transporting weapons to and from Eritrea amid the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. The CNN reporters backed up their report using cargo documents and manifest, plus eyewitness accounts and alleged photographic evidence.
However, Ethiopian Airlines has denied transporting weapons to the conflict in Tigray. A Facebook page with more than 10,000 followers shared a screenshot of a post saying, “The CEO of the Ethiopian Airline Dr. Tewolde acknowledges that the Ethiopian government has been and will continue providing the demands of the federal government.”
Despite this claim, Ethiopian Airlines has announced that the company's page was temporarily compromised and they found out that a fake statement was posted as it was from the Ethiopian Group CEO.” And the CEO of Ethiopian Airlines said he never conveyed any message and has never done so on any of the airline’s social media accounts.
The other controversy spotted out by HaqCheck was about Facebook. There were multiple reports about the social media giant’s role in disseminating hateful speech, misinformation, and political unrest.
A whistleblower called Frances Haugen, a former employee of Facebook accused the company of intentionally amplifying hateful and disputed content in countries like Ethiopia. She also alleged that Facebook has a role in fanning ethnic violence in Ethiopia by amplifying hateful and divisive content.
The speech by the prime minister
On October 4, 2021, Ethiopia held the formation of the new Government. After the inauguration ceremony, the minister gave a speech in the parliament as he was appointing his new cabinet. The controversial statement uttered by the prime minister was that “developed countries don’t have an education ministerial post.” This claim began trending on social media outlets. Developed countries do have educational ministerial departments. For instance, the United States of America has a cabinet-level ministerial post called the “US Department of Education”. And the United Kingdom has a department called the “Department for Education” which is responsible for children’s services and education, including early years, schools, higher and further educational policies.
The re-appointment of WHO head Dr. Tewodros Adhanom
A Facebook page with more than 180,000 followers shared a post claiming that “Tedros Adhanom has been re-elected for the second time as Director-General of the world health organization (WHO).” Dr. Tewodros Adhanom has been serving as a Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia from 2012-2016. He was also a Chair of the Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. After he served in different international organizations in 2017, he was elected as the Director-General of the World Health Organization. But there has been no official statement of Dr. Tewodros Adhanom being re-appointed on Sep 22, at the time the post was published.
Using false images to support claims
In October, different social media posts have used false images to support claims. A Facebook page used an image to support a claim that “the Federal Government started a new offensive with airstrikes, drones, and infantry”.
The image attached to the post shows a burning vehicle. The Facebook post had earned more than 55 shares on the platform by the time our fact-checking article was published. Nevertheless, HaqCheck has inspected the image and rendered it as false. The image was taken during a protest, that followed after a stampede at the Irreecha celebration in October 2016, when trucks and machinery belonging to the Dangote’s group were attacked by Oromo protesters.
USA's military equipment provision to Ethiopia
A Facebook post claimed that the US Government recently provided 2.9 million dollars worth of military equipment to the Ethiopian National Defence Force. The post attached two different images to support the claim that “the equipment is donated to Ethiopia to fight the Al-Shabaab [and]other terrorist groups in Somalia”. But the post was rendered as False by HaqCheck due to its wrong assertion. The image shows the American Government delivering military equipment support about a year ago.
The Ethiopian military is being armed with new drones
A Facebook post shared a couple of images claiming that the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) is being armed with a new type of drone that is capable of firing mortars off the radar. The image was first published in a news article by Xinhua on November 4, 2018. However, the image was taken when members of the Defense Force were on training in China about drone operations.
VTOL (Vertical Take-off and Landing) drones, pictured in the post's images, are not used for military purposes. The VTOL drones are used in mining construction, oil and gas industries, surveying, mapping, security, and defense industries.
Deceptive YouTube thumbnail
A video published on a YouTube channel, website, and Facebook page with more than 484,277 followers claimed to show Teddy Afro entertaining the army with a surprise appearance. However, the video in the Facebook post is found out that it doesn't actually show Teddy Afro entertaining cadets at Tolay Military Training Center, and the post was rendered False.
Controversial airstrike reports
Airstrikes have been conducted by the Ethiopian government in Tigray recently. The airstrikes were undertaken amid the escalation of the 12-month conflict between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Federal Government.
News reports of the airstrikes have been all over the media. Major global news outlets have reported the strikes. The warring sides rushed into giving their own version of the report of the aerial attacks.
TPLF and its affiliated regional state media in their reports accused the federal government of deliberately targeting civilians and private properties. They claimed that the attacks were aimed at massacring civilians and destroying public and private properties.
(Image source: Associated Press)
On the other hand, the federal government alleged that the aerial strikes had targeted TPLF’s military facilities and premises. They stated that the attacks were conducted on TPLF armament maintenance buildings and military training centers. The competing reports of the same incident showed the efforts to manipulate and take advantage of the situation by the belligerents.
Many renowned international media have recently developed a tendency of using images that are irrelevant to a particular news story. Besides, they don’t put sufficient description of the image they use alongside story articles. Such unprofessional reportings are known to potentially fuel information disorder and controversy. Given the low media literacy in Ethiopia, such mistakes would have a considerable adverse impact.
Recently, Reuters, France24, and Egypt Independent used out-of-context images including some without description while reporting about the recent airstrikes by the Federal Government in Tigray. Three of them used different images that depict damaged military tanks. They might have used such images to show the ongoing active war, but it contributes to information disorder or even misinformation.
Another reporting by Daily News Egypt on Facebook also used an image from November 16, 2020, without any description. The image was also previously factchecked by HaqCheck as a subject of another claim.
Even though there is a description and caption embedded under the images, using images unrelated to an issue might still mislead and misinform the public.
An article published on Aljazeera is titled “Air raids target capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray; 3 civilians dead”. However, the image in the story shows a wounded woman being hospitalized several months ago. Even though the caption of the image clarifies when it was taken, it still potentially misleads the audience and creates controversy about whether civilians were attacked by the airstrike.
Misquotation of the Prime Minister’s speech
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was misquoted by the UK-based news outlet, The DailyTelegraph, saying that he threatened to stop foreign food aid from entering the country.
The newspaper stated that Abiy indicated in his speech that he may stop international food aid from entering into Tigray to diminish diplomatic pressure on the country.
In a statement issued on October 20, 2021, the Ethiopian government the PM is quoted saying,, “if we make sure that this thing called wheat [food aid] does not enter Ethiopia, 70 percent of Ethiopia's problems will be solved” implying his desire to see the country food self-sufficient.
Ethiopia Current Issues Fact Check-governmental public relation or fact-checking initiative?
While the initiative of fact-checking by the government regarding ongoing issues is appreciated and is important at this time, the platform’s name - fact check and its actions are often contrasting.
Even though updating the public with timely information plays a significant role in countering disinformation, the role of fact checking is different from news reporting. Fact-checking requires monitoring of controversies, claims, and false information and giving factual information based on solid evidence.
Instead of using the available information and evidence as an advantage to factcheck the false information that has engulfed social media and the international media, the platform is observed playing a governmental role in public relations and communication.
This undertaking is far from the required standard of fact checking and may create confusion and misunderstanding of the public's perspective of what fact checking is.
Wrong Images for Borana Drought
According to reports, the Borana zone of the Oromia regional state has been affected by drought. Recently it has emerged that the Borana zone, a southern zone in the Oromia Regional State, has been hit by drought. Addis Standard, a local news outlet, reported that thousands of people have been impacted by malnutrition and 7,540 cattle have died due to the drought.
Campaigns that call for attention to the drought in Borana were observed on social media. Images that don't actually show the reality in the zone however were used mainly on Facebook.
Using irrelevant or false images alongside report stories would misinform users and discredit the campaigns too.
Kombolcha Industrial Park used as a weapon depot
A hashtag disinformation campaign has been ongoing regarding the belligerent's use of civilian infrastructural facilities for military purposes. Pro-TPLF users had claimed that the Ethiopian army was using the Kombolcha Industrial Park as a military depot for storing weapons.
The tweets on the issue were disseminated with a hashtag campaign. The claim came after allegations that the TPLF is using the premises of Mesfin Industrial Engineering, a large industrial complex in Mekelle, for military purposes. According to Reuters, the industrial complex was one of the targets during the recent airstrikes. The tweets had been circulating over many accounts.
Ceres Juice controversy
The Ethiopian Food and Drug Authority (EFDA) announced that it found a toxin in a juice. The authority warned that the public should avoid using the juice. The headline of the announcement originally written in Amharic reads, “The Authority advises the public not to use Cerece apple juice as it contains a 100% harmful toxin caused by mold.“
The reporting was complained on to be exaggerated and created controversies. The company and the authority explained that a mistake was made during translation from Amharic into English. The matter had been the report of the EFDA and other media outlets saying, “100% harmful toxic elements found…'' was a wrong way of addressing the issue. As the authority explained to EBS news the mistake happened during translation and what the statement should have said is “harmful toxic element found in Ceres 100% apple juice...”
Norway offering visa lottery
Disinformation in the form of Telegram messages was also circulating last month. Part of such trends was a Telegram message announcing that Norway is offering a visa lottery to foreigners. The link embedded in the message refers users to an application form requesting personal information. HaqCheck has confirmed that Norway doesn't offer a visa lottery opportunity, according to information we received from the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Addis Ababa.
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.