Ethiopians who lost their loved ones during the Tigray War have been granted permission to sue Facebook-owned social media giant Meta for allegedly failing to adequately moderate content that amplified violence, hatred, and incitement that led to over half a million deaths. The Kenyan court granted the petitioners leave to serve Meta in California, USA, after they failed to locate the social media giant’s office locally.
The lawsuit, filed by Ethiopian researchers Fisseha Tekle and Abrham Meareg and Kenyan rights group Katiba Institute in December 2022, seeks to compel Meta to stop viral hate on Facebook, ramp up content review at the moderation hub in Kenya, and to create a $1.6 billion compensation fund. The petitioners allege that Facebook’s algorithm amplified hateful and inciteful posts that drew more interactions and kept users logged in for longer.
Meareg’s father, professor Meareg Amare Abrha, was allegedly killed during the Tigray War after posts on Facebook doxed and called for violence against him. The petitioners claim that Facebook “under-invested” in human content review at the hub in Kenya, risking lives as it ignored, rejected or acted sluggishly to take down posts that also violated its community standards.
Meareg stated that his family has firsthand experience of how flawed content moderation could endanger lives and break up families. He said his father was murdered after Meta failed to act on repeated requests to take down posts that targeted him and other Tigrayans as calls for a massacre against the ethnic group spread online and offline. The Tigray War lasted two years and erupted in November 2020 after the Ethiopian army clashed with Tigray forces, leaving 600,000 people dead.
“My father’s case is not an isolated one. Around the time of the posts and his death, Facebook was saturated with hateful, inciteful and dangerous posts…many other tragedies like ours have taken place,” Meareg said.
The lawsuit is the latest case seeking to compel Facebook to stop amplifying violent, hateful, and inciteful posts. It remains to be seen how Meta will respond to the petitioners’ claims.