Meta (META) has been sued for amplifying hateful content that led to an Ethiopian civil war, a new lawsuit alleges. Two Ethiopian researchers and Katiba Institute, a Kenyan rights group, filed the suit in Kenya today (Dec. 14).
The lawsuit takes the form of a constitutional petition, meaning the plaintiffs are asking Kenya’s High Court, the country’s premiere court with unlimited jurisdiction, to intervene.
Meta’s content moderation hub for Eastern and Southern Africa is located in Kenya, and the lawsuit alleges Meta profited from hate speech and violence, which violates more than 10 articles in Kenya’s Constitution, though it is unclear which 10 those are. The plaintiffs are requesting the court order Meta to remove violent content, increase its content moderation headcount in Nairobi, and create restitution funds worth $2 billion for victims of violence incited by Meta’s platforms.
The Ethiopian civil war was fought between the government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the country’s former ruling party. It lasted two years and ended with a peace agreement last month, but it left millions displaced and around 500,000 dead.
This isn’t the first time Meta, which owns Facebook (META) and Instagram, has come under fire for posts on its platforms allegedly inciting violence. In September, Amnesty International, a human rights advocacy group, released a report demanding Meta pay reparations to the Rohingya people, a minority group in Myanmar. It claims Meta sparked a genocide against the Rohingya, profiting from clickbait and fake news that pushed anti-Rohingya narratives. The company later admitted it didn’t do enough to prevent violence against the Rohingya prior to 2018.
Last year, an unnamed woman filed a lawsuit seeking class action status on behalf of the Rohingya people against Meta in California. Meta’s motion to dismiss the case was granted today (Dec. 14) but the Rohingya plaintiffs will be allowed to amend and refile their case.
Meta said it is investing in technology and personnel to find and remove harmful content, according to an emailed statement. The company said it employs staff who speaks local languages and is continuing to develop its content moderation practices, they said.
In Ethiopia, less than 10 percent of the population uses Facebook, Meta said in a report published last year. The company removed fake accounts and thousands of hateful posts, it said.
Meta was “literally fanning ethnic violence” in places like Ethiopia because of its content moderation practices, Meta whistleblower Frances Haugen testified to Congress last year. Facebook didn’t have systems to detect hateful posts written in Amharic and Oromo, the two most spoken language in Ethiopia, according to Meta’s internal documents seen by CNN.
The lawsuit alleges Facebook’s algorithm amplified violent posts and that Meta was negligent in policing content, partly because it didn’t hire employees who spoke the languages or train its algorithm to detect hate speech in the languages. The father of one of the researchers named in the suit was killed during the war.