Meta: Beyond Having A Space in Space


 
 For more than 18 months, the war in Ethiopia has raged on, sending a deeply-cracked nation into inescapable ruins. Behind this endless fight is a history of animosity among diversities, fueled by the desire for power and control.
 
The Tigray People’s Liberation Force (TPLF) ruled Ethiopia for 27 years and has grown as one of the strongest forces in the country. Despite being a region of just 6 million people in a country of more than 100 million people, Tigrayans are some of the most powerful people in Ethiopia. 
 
A lot has changed since 2020. The Horn of Africa has been shaken to its core. As the TPLF showed resentment to the Abiy Ahmed-formed ruling party, the Prosperity Party, after a change in election dates, there have been endless shelling suffered by Tigrayans especially. 
 
Ethiopia, like many other countries in Africa that have had to deal with cracks and internal animosity, may never be the same again. Wars don’t leave sweet memories. 
 
Since the war began in November 2020, more than two million people have been displaced. Hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians are facing famine. As the effects of climate change deepens, and the war keeps shredding hopes, at least nine million people are in desperate need of food aid according to the United Nations.
 
As the history of the current moment keeps traversing generations, questions will be asked about the main players in the issues and the parties that enraged the fire. Somewhere in that account, will be the role of the social media and it’s unrestricted tendency to bring a people down. As great as it is in making constructive societies and building forces that can be inclusive, social media can also be used to fan the embers of war. In Ethiopia’s case, the most culpable of all is Facebook, now under a bigger umbrella called Meta, as it seeks a new world.
 
Facebook has about 6 million users in Ethiopia but the ruins it has caused in the country may not be quantifiable. Its decision to look away from how badly disinformation is fueling rage in the country makes it culpable for promoting violence in a country that was learning to live in peace. 
 
A report by The Continent last year pointed to documents leaked by Whistleblower Frances Haugen. The documents showed that the algorithms on Facebook are set to make a meal of extreme contents, fake news and disinformation.
 
The leaked documents showed that Facebook promoted fake videos of bloodshed in the Tigray war and when its attention was drawn to it, the company hardly flinched. Its numbers grew as the rage spread. Ethiopians everywhere in the world got worried about what’s happening at home, even when the videos lacked veracity. 
 
Broadcast messages on WhatsApp have done a lot to damage nations too, and cause violence. There are little checks to restrict the reach of fake news on the social media. 
 
Like Meta’s Facebook and WhatsApp, Twitter is also notorious for the promotion of contents that promote fake news and disinformation.
 
Some moves have been made in recent time by these companies to reduce the amount of fake contents spreading on the timeline, but little difference have been noticeable. 
 
 
 
Deborah Samuel: How The Social Media Is Helping The Growth of Hate 
 
 
Like Facebook and the social media is used as a channel for the spread of hate in Ethiopia, Nigeria saw a classical case of what a single message could do. 
 
Deborah Samuel, a student of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto was killed in the most gruesome and wicked way that may ever be witnessed by man. She was killed for blasphemy as jungle justice prevailed and security agents struggled and failed to protect her.
 
Worse was how, quickly videos of her lynching spread like wildfire across social media, on Facebook and Twitter especially. Videos of that cold murder, expressions of deep inhumanity are still on YouTube, watched by whoever cares. 
 
As Facebook went agog with the news and videos of Samuel’s death, it was also time for those who nursed the ambition of spreading hate. Debates went around on why Nigeria needed to split and go its separate ways. Backed with mostly fake stories, more seeds of discord were planted as the nation raged over yet another future killed in cold blood. 
 
Most staggering is the story of Ayodeji Rotinwa, the Deputy Editor of African Arguments. 
 
Rotinwa was stunned to see his photo on a Facebook post which labeled him as a doctor based in the UK. The fake, non-existent doctor named Christopher Uche-Ayodeji had Rotinwa’s image representing it. Shocked by what he saw and aware of the dangers that come with it, the writer had to run for his dear life. 
 
The non-existent doctor wrote on Facebook “I think my three months’ service in the north before I left for the UK was just so fun because I literally allowed the northern Muslims to die under my care as a doctor,” the post went. “I wasn’t even bothered because I know they don’t value human life.”
 
The post was clearly concocted to spread hate, push violence and division along ethnic lines. Rotinwa knew nothing about the post and was only told by concerned friends about the viral photo and post. The fake story on Facebook got picked by many Nigerians without double checking. They travelled with the news and shared it to make the anger spread. Facebook didn’t conduct checks to substantiate the claims. The people who saw the post called for sanctions against the doctor and Rotinwa understood the dangers that came with such. The most reasonable thing to do was running for his life.

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“People have died for less. Deborah Samuel died for less,” he told The Continent.
 
The people spreading this hate on Facebook and the social media make it believable. A reader would need a critical mind to ask many questions about the intention, timing and purpose behind such posts. From the naming to the timing of the post, it was driven to cause chaos, and Facebook fell for it, yet again. 
 
Two years ago, a peer-reviewed study at the New York University and the Université Grenoble Alpes in France found that from August 2020 to January 2021, news publishers known for sharing misinformation got six times the amount of likes, shares, and engagements on the platform as did trustworthy news sources, such as BBC or the World Health Organisation.
 
Nigeria has more than 30 million Facebook users and fake news spreads faster from that medium, probably than anywhere else. Twitter is also as culpable in the spread of disinformation. While these companies have proven more responsive in recent times by flagging down a potentially dangerous post, their roles in fanning the embers of violence is blatant. 
 
Web3 is growing fast and the world is excited by the potential of the virtual experience. But the humans that govern the real world need to be protected. 
 
Africans are doing great things in tech and are working for these companies too. What Rotinwa has had to face is a warning to everyone that nobody is safe in this social media age.
 
More than seeking and driving towards a space in space, the humans in the world matter too and the social media companies should do better.

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