Facebook said on Friday it had launched a three-month programme to tackle hate speech on the social network in Ethiopia after documents leaked to the Guardian showed it knew the site was being used to incite violence in the country but did little to stop the spread.
Among documents from a WhatsApp chat it shared with a human rights lawyer and a United Nations researcher is a plan to introduce a “universal safety net” for users in areas at “high risk of media violence” and to have moderators manually review individual posts before being left to go live.
Ethiopia, east Africa’s most populous country with a population of 90 million, is fighting a brutal insurgency by a group called Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which has been active for decades and has continued to carry out attacks and violence despite a peace deal in 2015.
Mass media advocacy group Censored Africa has documented stories of four men, including one son, who were driven from their farms in January by OLF activists, who said the family had killed two OLF members and left piles of corpses in the surrounding area. Another man, who was publicly accused of shooting dead a soldier at a roadblock, was on Facebook earlier that month for a message saying: “Enforce the death penalty for anyone who assists the armed Oromo resistance in breaking peace and any peace deal.”
In February a man posted: “My friends, allow me to inform you that I shot in self-defence yesterday. I am going to the doctor for surgery and the blood is now in the centre of the road.”
In one response to the leak, Facebook said it immediately shut down the account.
On Friday, it said it would not comment on individual cases but said it had launched a three-month safety initiative in Ethiopia.
“Our content reviewers act as the eyes and ears of communities around the world, responding to thousands of flagging reports each week,” it said. “We further vet flagged reports before allowing them to appear on the platform.
“We can learn from what doesn’t work and use that information to make faster progress in developing tools and improving our systems. In Ethiopia we’ve launched a three-month, country-wide safety initiative to introduce improved reporting tools, improve review mechanisms, enhance collaboration with the authorities and address potential abuse of our system.”
Ethiopia this week acknowledged for the first time that its authorities were behind a series of attacks on Oromo villages in January, saying in a statement on Friday the government was investigating the matter.