Facebook’s Role in Destabilizing Ethiopia and Wider Horn of Africa Region

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Simo Parviainen

In her opening statement in US Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection the Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen said this:

“My fear is that without action divisive and extremist behaviors we see today are only the beginning. What we … now see in Ethiopia are only the opening chapters of a story so terrifying no one wants to read the end of it.”

This statement is just a tip of the iceberg if we look at how Facebook, an American publicly traded corporation, is complicit in the destabilization of Ethiopia. Prior to the Tigray conflict, which started in November 2020 by TPLF sneak attack, we have witnessed unprecedented liberation of public discussion, as TPLF has gradually lost influence and freedom of speech space has been expanded in this enormous country since 2018.

Ethiopians home and abroad have flocked especially to Facebook, which quickly became also a platform for hate speech for the country’s various extreme ethnonationalist groupings. For historical reasons, it is important to note that many extremists have been already based abroad and have promoted their toxic agenda mainly from various countries in the West, where they have managed to emigrate and in many cases obtain residence or even citizenship.

Most notable of these groupings is undoubtedly the TPLF, which has launched since 2020 unprecedented information warfare attacks, coupled with murderous kinetic attacks, which are aimed at regime change, destabilization and destruction of the ancient social fabric holding the country firmly together. So far TPLF has been unsuccessful, but maintains a desperate struggle in the general area of Northern Ethiopia. This desperate struggle of the TPLF dead-enders has made Facebook’s role also clearly visible.

Already before November 2020 Facebook was used for hate speech inside Ethiopia. This speech, as rule, led ultimately to very real atrocities against completely innocent people, who had lived peacefully side by side, with their neighbors for generations surviving horrors of Communist dictatorship and other political upheavals. As stated above, many times, the propagandists of hate speech were based in the West, also in Finland and elsewhere (for example one particularly toxic hate speech incident from a person based in Finland reported to Finnish law enforcement).

Facebook, ahead of Ethiopia’s elections in June 2021, announced that it has removed various disinfo accounts, placing the blame on the Ethiopian government. The key fact to take note here is, how Facebook aligns with US current policy towards Ethiopia, which maintains unacceptable silence on TPLF violations and constantly only criticizes the government.

The revolving door phenomenon assures that contacts and jobs are exchanged frequently between US political administrations and major corporations as people hopping between government and private sector share the same view of the world or even political affiliation sometimes. Facebook’s removal of only some disinfo accounts and leaving most propaganda accounts intact has not helped Ethiopia at all to contain the terrible effects hate speech has wreaked on the country.

“I notice a lot of political soundbites on how Zuck has been sailing and could not have been bothered to answer US lawmakers. Perhaps Ethiopians can invite him to Ethiopia to survey what his company has catalyzed in cities and villages in Ethiopia? If his travel budget is tight, there is also possibility to crowdfund I am sure. What might further encourage Mr. Facebook to visit also Ethiopia and Africa is, that Mr. Dorsey and Mr. Ma have already presented their credentials in Addis Ababa. For Mr. Google I am not sure, but he also should consider it, if not for genuine care reasons, but just to follow numerous examples of celebrities- it’s good for PR!”

-Quote from anonymous Ethiopia expert based in Finland

But seriously coming back to the issue of Facebook being based in the US, we see Facebook targeting the Ethiopian government fighting a vicious information war. Does Facebook target other countries the same way, namely the US government. No, instead, and as we have learned from numerous leaks inside that government (Edward Snowden, Thomas A. Drake, William Binney and others) Facebook cooperates and facilitates US government spying on a massive scale.

I hope all these facts help to put the reader in a position, where there is a complete picture of how Facebook, along with the rest of the Western international community’s policy and influence architecture, including media houses, has and is contributing to destabilization of Ethiopia. The main thing is to make these disingenuous actions visible, so that genuine policy rethink in the West is conducted as soon as possible.

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