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Ethiopia’s court has issued arrest warrants for officials from Facebook, Google and Amazon over “violent propaganda” on social media.
The trial started this week. It comes amid Ethiopia’s deadly political unrest in which more than 2,000 people have been killed, and hundreds of thousands have been arrested.
The Information and Communication Technology Ministry accuses the three companies of having failed to comply with laws requiring them to remove content that incites violence.
Among the videos watched by many Ethiopia’s government, is a video from an Ethiopian news website that shows a man in Uganda being interviewed about the protests that are happening in his home country, and he responds “I like living here. Thanks Israel!”.
A video on Facebook from a provincial governor mocking the protesters shows a man in costume as Death actor voicing his fears about the violence. He says “unless you you carefully watch each and every death, you are also as a responsible person as a sitting governor of your county as well as governor of a province – every single death. You do not see the beauty of life!”
Links from music bloggers and commentators have also led to violent violence. One artist, Thebe Kebede, whose song “Asari” which describes violent protests, has seen his concerts cancelled and his music removed from streaming services.
“It’s not ethical or right for a society that is violent to make the entertainment, music, public awareness and cultural figures, which I was giving. We give this pain, have made this pain, know that it’s OK. I believe we must really do it to get people to change their ways of thinking,” Thebe told the BBC.
According to documents seen by the BBC, Facebook knew that videos about the protests were circulating on the social network, but did little to stop the spread of the images and videos.
“Generally, Facebook is wary of giving a gratuitous show of approval to content that threatens and in effect incite violence,” a March 2017 report from Facebook concluded.
When challenged by Ethiopian court, Facebook agreed not to remove the content from its service but told the court that it could not remove videos showing crimes and images of that nature were protected by the constitution.
However, other videos posted by people in Ethiopia were removed despite Facebook’s knowledge of their existence. The videos were removed after being shared on Facebook, but were later reposted on the social network.
A Facebook spokeswoman confirmed that it cooperated with requests to take down content but did not respond to the questions regarding specific requests by the court.
The companies have pleaded not guilty to the charges. “Any action that Ms. Alava took was only with her consent and in full compliance with the law,” – according to a statement from the Information and Communication Technology Ministry.
The arrest warrants issued by the court have been served on Facebook’s general counsel Colin Stretch, representatives from Amazon Alexa and Google’s YouTube.