Professor Meareg Amare Abrha murder raises Facebook safety questions

Occurred: November 2021

The murder of chemistry professor and Tigrayan ethnic group member Professor Meareg Amare Abrha was preceded by two Facebook posts of defamation and death threats, raising questions about Facebook's commitment to user safety.

Abrha was assassinated outside his family home in Bahir Dar, the capital of Ethiopia’s Amhara regional state by a group of armed men who had followed him home from his university on motorbikes and shot him at close range trying to enter his family home. 

His murder came after Tigrayan staff were targeted on Facebook, and shortly after details of where he lived were doxxed and calls for his death had been posted on a Facebook page called 'BDU STAFF'. 

According to media reports, his body was left on the scene for seven hours before his attackers permitted the city municipal service to pick his body.

A week after Meareg’s murder, Facebook announced a series of measures intended to address abusive and violent material on its platform in Ethiopia, included reducing the spread of material the company’s automated moderation technology had flagged as being likely to be hate speech.

On December 14, 2022, Professor Abrha's son Abrham, alongside the Katiba Institute and Amnesty International's Fisseha Tekle, filed a class-action lawsuit against Facebook owner Meta alleging that Facebook's content moderation was 'woefully inadequate', and that Facebook's algorithm helped fuel the viral spread of hate and violence during Ethiopia's civil war.

The lawsuit (or 'petition'), which was filed by London-based legal non-profit Foxglove in Nairobi, Kenya, where Facebook opened a major content moderation hub for Eastern and Southern Africa in 2019, accused Meta of having too few moderators who deal with posts in the Amharic, Oromo, and Tigrinya languages. The suit went on to argue that Facebook's algorithm promoted 'hateful and inciting' content as it is likely to draw more interaction from users.

In April 2023, a Kenyan court granted Abrham and other petitioners leave to sue Meta in California, USA, after they failed to identify the social media company's physical office in the country.

Operator: Meta/Facebook
Developer: Meta/Facebook
Country: Ethiopia
Sector: Education
Purpose: Minimise harmful content
Technology: Content moderation system
Issue: Governance; Safety
Transparency: Governance; Black box; Complaints/appeals

Page info
Type: Incident
Published: February 2023
Last updated: October 2023