Ethiopian social media in the first week of August was convulsed with claim and counterclaim over the alleged massacre of Tigreans in the town of Humera.
The Ethiopia Current Issues Fact Check, which looks at “addressing current issues in Ethiopia,” issued warnings on July 22 saying “TPLF’s plans to carry out an unprovoked massacre in Humera have been exposed” and “more than 300 dead bodies were dumped on trucks and moved to Mekelle by TPLF”. Again on August 2 it was stated that ‘TPLF propagandists’ were fabricating false images and graphic pictures to revive a ‘fake’ Humera massacre.
Meanwhile, images and reports flooded social media claiming that Amhara regional militias had committed massacres on Tigreans in Humera. The BBC, Al Jazeera, CNN, New York Times, VOA, Reuters and other news outlets reported that dead bodies were found floating in the Tekeze river, also known as Setit, around the Sudan border, referring to eyewitnesses.
The allegation on ICRC Ethiopia
Another piece of disinformation which took to social media were allegations claiming a huge amount of money had been found on people from the International Committee of the Red Cross Ethiopia (ICRC) at a checkpoint in Afar region. The posts claim that the cash was to be provided to the TPLF forces. The allegation went viral on Facebook.
The International Committee of the Red Cross Ethiopia issued a statement on Facebook saying that the allegation it had been caught illegally transporting cash to TPLF was false. It added that the items in the image had been notified to the respective federal and regional authorities in advance and were provided with permissions to be transported.
Afar special force deputy commander
A claim that went viral across social media reported that the Afar regional Special Force deputy Commander, Mohammud Ibrahim, has joined the TPLF forces. The person, who also claimed to have joined the TPLF regional forces, was interviewed by a TV station affiliated to TPLF.
Later on, the Afar communication office released a statement regarding the issue stating that Mohammud is the former deputy commander of the Afar Regional Special Police Force. But he was imprisoned for his alleged involvement in contraband trade, before the new leadership came to power back in 2018. The statement also added that he was later released from prison, with the government’s pardon. “What he did doesn’t represent the government and people of Afar,” the statement said.
Ethiopian Airlines allegation
Ethiopian Airlines was accused of transporting soldiers and firearms to Tigray. There were several viral tweets alleging that the state flagship was used to shift military cargo. These claims were followed up with campaigns that called for the boycotting of the airline.
Ethiopian Airlines responded by denying the allegation on social media and said that all flights from and to Tigray had been suspended over a month ago. The national carrier said there had been no flights to the war-torn region since the end of June.
Controversies over Lalibela
Social media posts and allegations regarding the Lalibela Church also spread across social media. Over the week there was a picture of one of the churches, Biete Amanuel, displaying bullet holes, with claims that the TPLF forces had attacked the church.
However, the images were old pictures and the holes that seemed to be gunshots, were not from an attack by TPLF.
On Thursday August 5, 2021, TPLF forces took control of the town of Lalibela in the North Wollo zone of Amhara regional state. Following the news, the US asked the TPLF forces to respect the site’s heritage. It was reported that Getachew Reda, the spokesman for the TPLF, said “the concerns were misplaced. We know what it means to protect heritage sites.”
The visit of Samantha Power to Ethiopia
Another disinformation trend regarded the visit of the USAID chief Samantha Power to Ethiopia. She came to Ethiopia on August 5, 2021 and met Muferiat Kamil, Minister of Peace and Lia Tadesse, Minister of Health.
She didn’t meet Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) who was said to be out of the capital. Amid the diplomatic stand-off, claims emerged that Power had been told she couldn’t meet with the Prime Minister and instead would attend meetings with lower-ranking government officials. The claim added that Power was notified Abiy could only meet with state leaders with equal positions.
The Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) said Power was told that the Prime Minister or the Minister of Foreign Affairs could not be available due to tight schedules.
Power also responded to speculation on social media that said she was coming to Ethiopia with the intention of regime change. She said that she had come to the country for humanitarian purposes not for a regime change.
There were also controversial reports about her visit to Addis Ababa, framing what she said in one angle. Some local news outlets said that she denounced the attacks by the TPLF. Others reported that she criticized Prime Minister Abiy for using adverse rhetoric and terms against communities.
Fact-checking by HaqCheck
In addition HaqCheck looked into the issue about a recently proposed US resolution on Ethiopia. A video clip emerged claiming that the resolution had been repudiated by the Ethiopian-born American former Congress candidate Ted Alemayehu.
However, HaqCheck rated it Misleading. The resolution was neither overturned nor permanently removed. Ted Alemayehu, also on his Facebook page, said the information in the video clip was not accurate. In another post, he further clarified the issue saying he only said the resolution would not be submitted that week and not that it is canceled.
HaqCheck recommends the public should look for information from credible sources. They should also refer to statements, updates, and clarifications from authorities regarding the matter.
All interested bodies and organizations should provide the public with timely information on critical issues.
Journalists and news outlets should look into both sides of a story when reporting. They should also be careful when they quote officials. They should follow discipline in all aspects.
HaqCheck is a local multilingual fact-checking project based in Ethiopia, formed inside Addis Zeybe’s newsroom, now Inform Africa’s Counter Disinformation Project – a board-led Civil Society Organization (CSO) – dedicated to verifying media contents from social to the mainstream. HaqCheck works in collaboration with media outlets to monitor media contents in English and four local languages (Amharic, Afaan Oromo, Tigrigna, and Somali).
This report is produced with the support of UNESCO under the #CoronavirusFacts: Addressing the ‘Disinfodemic’ on COVID-19 in conflict-prone Environments that the UNESCO Addis Ababa Office is implementing in Ethiopia with financial support from the European Union (EU). The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of UNESCO or the EU concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city, or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. The ideas and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UNESCO or The European Union and do not commit these organizations in any way.