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Meta sued in Kenya for unchecked hate, violence on Facebook

 Meta sued in Kenya for unchecked hate, violence on Facebook

An Ethiopian man who lost his father, a university chemistry professor, in the Tigray war has sued Meta, the owners of Facebook, for failing to take down hateful messages that likely influenced and drove armed attackers to profile and gun down his father. He wants “a personal apology”.

In a high court case that could set precedent for millions of social media users across Africa, Meta, the company that owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, could be compelled to establish a $2 billion (about Kes245.6 billion) fund for victims of hate on Facebook and rollout changes on the platform’s algorithm.

Meta could also be forced to set aside further Kes50 billion (about $400m) for similar harm from sponsored posts on its platforms.

In the case filed in Nairobi, Ethiopian petitioner Abrham Meareg notes that his father Prof Meareg Amare was brutally killed outside his home in November last year following a series of slanderous Facebook posts profiling him for an attack.

“Right now (December 8, 2022), one of the posts calling for the death of his murdered father is still live,” Abrham notes in court papers.

Abrham adds that he tried desperately reaching out to Facebook, which runs a content moderation office in Nairobi, to take these posts down without success.

Prof Meareg was a chemistry lecturer at Bahir Dar University in Ethiopia. On the fateful day, his son says he was followed home from his workplace by armed men on motorbikes who shot him at close range as he entered his family home.

According to Abrham, threats from the attackers made it even impossible for witnesses to help his father in his hour of need. The professor bled to death for about seven hours, his son says.

“If Facebook had just stopped the spread of hate and moderated posts properly, my father would still be alive,” Abrham told BBC adding that Facebook’s algorithm amplifies “hateful and inciting” content. He wants “a personal apology”.

Read also: Kenya’s growth to dip next year on declining horticulture exports, tourist numbers – World Bank

Abrham also faults Facebook’s content moderation unit in Africa, terming it “woefully inadequate”, and understaffed especially for teams managing online conversations in Amharic, Oromo, and Tigrinya languages.

Another Ethiopian petitioner Fisseha Tekle explains that his independent reports on violence by all parties to the Ethiopian war in the Tigray region made him a prime target for abuse on the social media platform Facebook.

Fisseha, who is a researcher, details how Facebook’s moderation failures made Amnesty’s critical work of human rights reporting impossible and risked his life.

Currently, hundreds of thousands of people have lost lives in the war between Tigray and the Ethiopian government and forces. The ongoing drought in the Horn of Africa has worsened the conditions for millions of locals in the war torn zone.

Also in the case as a petitioner is Kenya’s legal organisation, Katiba Institute, which was set up to defend the Kenyan Constitution.

Institute says they are enjoined in the suit to set out the implications for Kenya of unchecked viral hate and violence running rampant from Facebook’s Nairobi hub.

newsroom@maudhui.co.ke

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