Dangerous Conversations Online amidst Violence

The violence against civilians in the Metekel zone of Benishangul Gumuz regional state that was ignited in the month of September is not still controlled. We have witnessed at least two deadly violence in the past month. One of them was the gun attack on a bus which claimed at least 30 lives on the 16th of November (EHRC). Later on December 9, at least 10 residents of Dibattie Woreda of Metekel were killed by armed men (Amhara Mass Media).

CARD has shared analysis on the historical and contemporary causes of violence at Metekel as well as analysis on the contribution of conflict-insensitive reporting in exacerbating the incidents. Today’s analysis focuses on social media conversations that negatively contribute to people to people relationship.

Dehumanizing Labels

A  40 minutes interview with Commissioner, Abere Adamu, of the Amhara Regional Police Commission was aired on Amhara TV. At the 35:00th minute, Abere Adamu stated:

መተከል ላይ እየተፈፀመ ያለው ግፍ፣ መሳሪያ አይደለም ሌላም እንድታነሳ ያስገድድሀል። ነፍሰ ጡር ሆዷ ተቀዶ ሕፃኑ ወጥቶ የሚበላበት፣ ሰው በቀስት እየተመታ አንጀቱ አየተጎለጎለ የሚወጣበትእንዲህ ዓይነት አረመኔያዊ ተግባር በምድር ላይ የሚፈፀመው በመተከል ብቻ ነው’’

Translation- “The cruelty that is happening in Metekel, not only makes you use weapons but also it forces you to do something else… it is a place where a pregnant woman’s stomach is torn and the baby is eaten and where a person is being attacked with an arrow and his intestine is pulled out. It is only in Metekel that this kind of barbaric act is being done on earth, not only in Ethiopia.’’

Following this remark, social media users started to label Benshangul Gumuz people as ‘human-eating monster groups’.  A Facebook user who claimed to have witnessed dead bodies and testimony of Gumuz members to have killed and eaten “light-skinned” people because of their traditional customs.  The person claimed to be an education expert in the region at Metekel zone. His post, title “testimony”, has been reproduced multiple times by other Facebook users and pages. In an attempt we have made to confirm if there were peer-reviewed researches that affirm the claim of cannibalism tradition in this community, we could not find any.  

Image 1: A post by a journalist in exile claims that to have primitive societies who are cannibals and cut men’s gentiles is a hidden conspiracy to have Ethiopia destroyed

Another Facebook post (see image 1) by a journalist in exile claims that some ethnic groups are monsters who eat human flesh and cut sexual organs of men as a culture.

Translation: “We are hearing the news that eating human flesh is Gumuz’s culture. When I was back after visiting Nech Sar Park, people were saying “welcome back without having your thingy cut”. They said there is a culture where the man cannot marry unless he cuts a man’s gentile in that area. In South Omo, there is what they call a culture of mutilating lips and beating a man’s back with a stick and even the government promotes it to tourists. — Well, nations and nationalities, this backward wilderness is what we brought as a government to lead the country. I tell you the truth, it was better if we had fallen under the Italian colony than to experience such indirect colonialism to destroy Ethiopia.”

An Amhara nationalist group known ‘Moresh’ has released a list of 85 people killed and repeatedly alleged the killers eat the flesh of their victims by citing an unnamed policewoman.

Image 2: A post claiming that Amhara officials are engaged in disseminating information that claims Gumuz people are doing cannibalism.

Another well-interacted post (see Image 2) by an activist, asserted that Amhara officials are disseminating as though Gumuz ethnics are engaged in cannibalism to grab their land.

Translation of the post: “what else is hate speech more than this??? “Shanqillas are barbaric who kill and eat the flesh of humans and who then use the bones to beat drum and dance” Imagine that these are the people who preach to us about tolerance and unity.

What kind of addiction is this to paint people with such kind of dirt to take their land???  As you can see below, this campaign was opened against the Gumuz people and had caused the genocide of 400 Gumuze ethnics. Amhara officials are even appearing on TV to disseminate an agenda claiming that Gumuz is eating humans.” And, he attached a post by an anonymous page that labels Gumuz people as cannibals.

Normalizing Torture

The military operation in Tigray has also witnessed dangerous, and conflict-insensitive conversations. In this record, we want to demonstrate examples of conversations that were normalizing tortures.

Image 3: a screenshot of a tweet; translation: “if you are not sitting back quite, I will release a video that shows when they played you when you were in jail.”

The above tweet (see image 3)was targeted at the award-winning journalist Reeyot Alemu who is currently working for a diaspora media, Ethio 360 Media. She received this threat under a tweet she made on her program “against TPLF propaganda”. The threat was thrown at her by a TPLF-affiliated social media activist who vowed to release a video that shows when Reeyot was played by the people who jailed here. Gender-based violence has been reported to be a technique of torture in Ethiopian prisons.

Image 4: Tweets making fun of tortures techniques.

These are similar insensitive comments that normalize tortures. Hanging bottles of water over men’s gentiles have been reported to be used as a torture technique against men previously. Now, following detentions of TPLF affiliates, social media users tried to make a joke out of it, “on what should we hang it then?” reads a tweet after Keria Ibrahim (a female TPLF official surrendered to the government, see image 4) and “on her breast” replies one, “her husband’s is hers too” replies another. The conversation goes on like that.

Gender-based Bullying

Among other things, the gender-based bullying extreme against women, and even female government officials are not immune from this attack. A good example is an attack against authority by a prominent activist.

Image 5: A sexist message against the CEO of EthioTelecom for wearing a miniskirt.

A well-known activist who has more than 350,000 followers on Facebook has posted (see image 5) an attack against the CEO of Ethiotelecom for only wearing a miniskirt woven out of traditional fabrics on an ad. He asks, “what is this now? Is she a #promotion_model or a #Manager? Which criteria has made her competent to lead #Ethio_telecom? should a manager, who has a lot of responsibilities of managing a corporation that is tied with complex problems show her #thighs off in advertisement? Is this woman okay?”

Conclusion

This short analysis of recent conversations online tried to see the online behavior of social media in Ethiopia. By changing their form and content, social media behaviors are continuing to pose serious challenge for societal justice. From the findings of most of our analyses including this one, we have drawn a conclusion that influential activists and content producers are playing a major role in spreading hate, inciting violence, and bringing new narratives that might spread not substantiated conspiracies. Not only the main posts but their comment/reply sections are also the main sources of such dangerous behaviors. Additionally, the speeches government officials are making are also another concern, no less than other social media behaviors. The interview of the Amhara police commissioner mentioned above is a good example of how careless remarks would aggravate a toxic social media conversation. Public figures need to be cautious about the words they use and the way they present them to the public. As a result of this interview, the people of Gumuz are facing dehumanization by the public on social media. It’s difficult to determine what this might cause in the offline space as a consequence.

Most importantly, the report raised the issue of normalizing tortures, online gender-based violence, and blaming the victim as concerning factors that are neglected in the discourse of dangerous speeches. All these shows social media behaviors are multifaceted which includes various and complex activities, changing in type and content depending on the existing situations of the country and the societal altitude. We recommend further investigations on the effects of social media conversations in exacerbating violence, as well as the effects of mainstream media and official speeches over the conversation online.

Center for Advancement of Rights and Democracy (CARD)

Making Democracy the Only Rule of Game!

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