Ethiopia’s new hate speech law is a consequence of social media platforms’ limited action
Internet Without Borders is deeply worried by the adoption in Ethiopia of the law against hate speech and disinformation on social media, and is alarmed by the impact that this law may have on the public debate in this country. The adoption of this controversial text, almost two months after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed received his Nobel Peace Prize, questions the correlation that is made between the dissemination of content inciting hate between communities, and the need for state censorship to preserve peace.
For months, the organization has been sounding the alarm on the increase of publications inciting hate between communities on social media, in countries where institutions in transition are having difficulty countering this new threat, in a manner respectful of democratic principles. One of the manifestations of this phenomenon is the exponential increase in cases of Internet shutdowns, particularly in Africa. In 2019, the Ethiopian government argued the fight against “falase information” to justify an Internet shutdown. Internet Without Borders encourages the adoption of proactive measures to prevent the virality of hate online, in particular on the part of content platforms.
“Facebook, Google, and Twitter have barely heard our calls so far, given the magnitude of the problem: since 2018, we have been tracking ethnic and religious hate speech in several African countries, the situation is extremely alarming. Ethiopia is just the first of African states that will pass unjust laws to tackle a phenomenon that leaves them helpless, “said Julie Owono, Executive Director of Internet Without Borders.
Internet Without Borders, and its network of journalists and Human Rights defenders have been tracking and reporting social media publications that are dangerous for civil peace in West and Central Africa, and will soon extend its project to other countries including Ethiopia, Nigeria, and South Africa. The information collected within the framework of this project, helps in the creation of contextualized hate speech in Africa. The database will allow to refine the current systems of automated moderation, by taking into account the context, the language, in order to fight hate speech, while preserving freedom of expression.