HaqCheck looked into the disinformation circulation trend during the month of August.
The trend was almost the same for the past few months. However, during the month of August, the trend followed a different path around the end of the month. August was characterized by more false posts and controversies than in the preceding months.
The major factor that caused many false posts and controversies was the resumption of war between the TPLF and the Ethiopian federal government.
The resumption of war
The war between the government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) resumed at the end of the month. On Aug 16, 2022, the TPLF announced that the federal government violated the cessation of hostilities declared and jointly adopted at the end of March.
The war erupted again after the TPLF stated that the federal government had launched attacks against its armed forces in the southern Tigray areas on the early morning of Aug 24, 2022.
Thereafter, many false image-backed posts emerged. HaqCheck fact-checked many claims that are related to the recently resumed war.
Some of the claims related to the war and debunked by HaqCheck are reviewed in this monthly summary.
False images of a plane allegedly shot down by Ethiopia while transporting weapons for the TPLF
The Ethiopian government claimed that it shot down a plane that entered the Ethiopian airspace carrying weapons to TPLF via Sudan. Instantly, Multiple images with the claim that a plane was shot down by Ethiopia when transporting weapons to the TPLF via Sudan were shared on social media.
These images were shared on social media platforms mainly on Facebook. They were shared by many accounts and pages.
HaqCheck cross-checked three images and confirmed that they don’t show a plane shot down by the Ethiopian Air Force when transporting weapons to the TPLF from Sudan trespassing the country’s airspace.
The first image was shared by a Facebook page with a Tigrinya and English caption stating the Ethiopian Air Force shot down an airplane entering the Ethiopian airspace from Sudan loaded with arms for TPLF. The image was found in a news story that reported a plane crashed in the Amra Valley of the state of Arizona in the US in March 2021. The image was published on the website with a description that the image shows the crushed plane and the picture was taken by the Pima County law enforcement agency.
The second was shared on a Facebook account with a claim that Ethiopia downed a place that belonged to the country’s historical enemies transporting weapons to the TPLF through Sudan. The image was shared on Twitter on May 4, 2020, with a claim that the image shows an Uzbekistan Mig-29 aircraft.
The third and the fourth images were also taken from other old publications and HaqCheck confirmed that they don’t show the alleged incident.
A false video of recently surrendered TPLF POWs
As the fighting between the TPLF and the federal government resumed, a number of claims emerged reporting that each side was capturing many prisoners of war. Among these is a video shared on social media that is claimed to show TPLF prisoners of war who surrendered recently.
The video was viral and was shared close to one thousand times.
However, the video is found to be old and doesn’t show TPLF prisoners of war who surrendered during the resumed fighting. The video was from months ago in Dec 2021 captured during the fighting between TPLF regional forces and federal government-led allied forces.
Incident-driven social information dissemination trend
Incidents continue to influence the trend of information circulation on social media. HaqCheck observed that disinformation in the Ethiopian media landscape is highly susceptible to events. The trend of disinformation and controversy swings according to incidents. Events such as war, conflict, violence, drought, and election highly influence the trend of false information dissemination, particularly on social media.
Some of the incidents that influenced social media information dissemination during the month of August were the following:
Famine and drought
The is an ongoing drought in the countries of the Horn of Africa especially in Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya. The drought and other crises such as conflict have caused a dire shortage of food in the region.
International organizations have been warning of possible famine in the region due to the current periodical drought, conflict, and pandemic.
In this context, many social media false images were shared to allegedly show starved people or people dying out of hunger. HaqCheck debunked many such image-backed posts.
One of these claims was a Twitter post that shared three images claiming that the pictures show starved people in Oromia.
An image out of the three pictures is found to be old and doesn’t show the ongoing reality in the country. The image was taken from Uganda and was published to show starvation in that country. It was shared on a website in Jul 2022.
Another post that was debunked was an image-supported tweet sharing four pictures to support its claim that many Oromos are dying out of starvation.
However, three of the images were fetched from other sources and don’t depict the current drought and starvation in Ethiopia.
The first image was first shared on Facebook in May 2022 and the post stated that the image was taken in Mekelle.
Elements of propaganda
As the war between the TPLF and the federal government of Ethiopia is ongoing, propaganda warfare had continued by the belligerents. Thus posts with elements of propaganda appeared in the past month.
One of the false claims that were disseminated as propaganda by the TPLF was that Ethiopia’s external debt stock skyrocketed since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power. The claim was made by the Dimtsi Weyane and Tigrai TV stations and on social media.
The information was presented in video and written content reporting that Ethiopia’s external debt dramatically increased from 28 billion dollars a few years ago to 56.6 billion dollars at the time being.
However, the claim was proven false by HaqCheck. According to the data analyzed by HaqCheck, Ethiopia’s external debt numerically stayed almost the same or with some fluctuation.
Diversified disinformation platforms
The major platforms for false information dissemination had been relatively diversified in August. For a long time, Facebook dominated being the fertile ground of false information circulation. It was the substantial landscape of disinformation particularly those of image-supported ones.
In the month, however, many other social media platforms have also become major fields for false information disseminators.
Telegram has become the major platform for circulating sensitive images and video-backed content. It is partly because there is little restriction on posting sensitive and graphic images and videos on Telegram. Many social media content creators were observed to invite their followers on their platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to go visit their Telegram channels for additional information, i.e., sensitive images and videos.
Twitter has also become a major platform for image-backed claims. HaqCheck found and debunked many false claims supported by false images that appeared on Twitter. As a showcase, a viral post published on Twitter shared an image alleged to show a plane that was recently shot down by the Ethiopian army while encroaching into the Ethiopian airspace to transport weapons for the TPLF.
The website was also somewhat one of the landscapes that enabled the dissemination of false information during the last month.
HaqCheck recommends the belligerents in the Tigray war be responsible and refrain from damaging propaganda content. They should respect the public and refrain from chronically disinforming the people on both sides.
We urge social media users to be skeptical and look for additional sources for controversial information they encounter. They should also look for fact-checks if already there regarding the issue at hand.
The government and other entities are urged to open up wider and secure access to information for the media and the public. They should avail timely and sufficing updates for the public.