The disinformation trend in the Ethiopian social media landscape during the month of March relatively subsided.
HaqCheck identified and fact-checked many claims and controversies. However, most of the issues revolved around armed conflicts and inter-ethnic violence across the country. The armed conflict between the federal government and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) which started in November 2020 and developments regarding it was the major topic of disinformation on social media.
The process of discussion on the ratification of the two draft bills at the US Congress was another major topic behind the disinformation trend and controversies on social media last month. Many false and misleading claims emerged about the status and ongoing development of the proposed bills.
A new trend of information disorder regarding inflation and increasing cost of living is also evolving recently. For several months, the Ethiopian social media landscape has been solely dominated by issues concerning armed conflict, inter-communal violence, and political instability in the country.
But since recently, the rapidly skyrocketing cost of products has become one topic of social media disinformation and controversy. We observed claims regarding the ongoing galloping inflation and related economic crises trending on social media. Some of them were circulating in satirical forms.
The other information disorder trend was a famine and related social crises in Tigray due to the armed conflict. Some claims and images emerged over the last month.
Other false claims and controversies that appeared on social media during the month of March were mostly one-time issues. They appear and vanish without trending for a long time. For instance, HaqCheck came across false image-related claims on the commemoration of the battle of Adwa, Russia allegedly building a nuclear weapons factory in Ethiopia, Oromos hanged by Emperor Menelik, the appointment of Girma Wake as CEO of Ethiopian Airlines, and scams.
Here are briefly presented the false claims and controversial issues that emerged in the Ethiopian social media realm during the month of March.
Russia constructing a nuclear weapon manufacturing facility in Ethiopia
This claim appeared at the beginning of last month amid the Russia-Ukraine war. It signified that Russia is going to construct Africa’s biggest nuclear weapons manufacturing facility in Ethiopia.
The post used a false image to support the information. The image shows heavy missile systems being transported on trailers.
Ethiopia and Russia signed an agreement to develop a nuclear facility for civilian purposes in March 2022. The agreement is about developing a nuclear electric power generation facility and nuclear technologies to be used in other civilian sectors.
However, the post becomes misleading by asserting otherwise that the agreement was about the construction of a nuclear weapons manufacturing facility in Ethiopia.
In support of the claim, the post used an image that shows heavy missile systems being transported on trucks. The image was taken from a video released by China Central Television (CCTV) in Sep 2019. The video shows a military parade on Sept 30, 2019, during the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China since the Communist Party of China took power on Oct 1, 1949.
The missile shown in the image is called DF-5B and is a sophisticated intercontinental ballistic missile.
In light of the actual facts, HaqCheck rated the claim MISLEADING.
Rally made in Chelenqo during the commemoration of the battle of Adwa
A claim appeared reporting that there was a rally in Chelenko to remember the ‘brutality of Menelik’. A Facebook page shared an image titled, “Menelik’s brutality is remembered today at Chelenko”. The post was published on March 2, 2022, the day the 126th victory of Adwa is celebrated in Addis Ababa.
HaqCheck inquired into the image and confirmed that it was taken from an article on the Oromian Economist website published in 2015 with a headline, “The Calanqoo Massacre Memorial Monument Inaugurated on 21st March 2015”.
Thus, HaqCheck rendered the post FALSE.
Gumuz rebels attacking GERD workers
An image-backed post emerged reporting that rebels in Benishangul Gumuz attacked workers of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The Facebook post, published on Mar 3, 2022, claimed that the workers were attacked while traveling from the dam to a metropolitan area.
HaqCheck confirmed that the image presented to prove the claim was taken from an old article posted on Sep 1, 2017, with a description that an American journalist named Christopher Allen was shot dead in South Sudan.
Therefore, HaqCheck rendered the post False.
TPLF army marching toward Eritrea
A military standoff among the belligerents of the Tigray conflict was announced recently. In this context, a Facebook post shared an image on Mar 5, 2022, with a claim that the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) was mobilizing its armed units towards Eritrea.
HaqCheck inspected the image and learned that it was an old picture taken from a Facebook post on Aug 3, 2019. The image shows a military parade in Sawa, Eritrea on August 01, 2019.
HaqCheck confirmed that the image was old and rated the post FALSE.
Procurement of 40 million edible oil from abroad
A controversy regarding the shortage of edible oil and the government’s response was one of the viral issues on social and mainstream media. As a response to the sudden shortage, the Ministry of Trade and Regional Integration announced that the government would import 40 million liters of edible oil.
The Ministry of Finance then denied that there was no agreement with anyone to procure the claimed amounts of edible oil. The ministry also confirmed that there was only a study being conducted to solve the shortage of the product.
Amhara militants burnt houses in Oromo Special Zone
A tweet shared an image on March 13 supporting a claim that Amhara militants burned Oromo houses in the Dawa district of Wollo Oromia Special Zone, in Amhara Regional State.
HaqCheck investigated the image and confirmed the image was old and doesn’t show recently burnt houses in Wollo.
The image was taken from a publication made on Dec 23, 2020, in an article about a ‘massacre in the Benishangul Gumuz Regional State’.
Therefore, the claim was rated FALSE.
Oromos hanged by Emperor Menelik ll
A Twitter account shared images on Mar 17, 2022, with an overlay text that reads, “Menelik Genocide on Oromo people 1897 in Finfinnee.”
However, HaqCheck learned that the images were taken from old sources and don’t support the claim.
The first image was taken from an article describing the 1935 Italian invasion of Ethiopia. The description of the image stated that it shows Ethiopians who resisted the Italian army and were hanged by the Italian soldiers.
The second image was found on a website post about Eritrea’s short history. The website story shows Eritrean People Liberation Front (EPLF) fighters who were hanged by the then Ethiopian military regime, Derg during the Eritrean independence armed struggle.
Accordingly, the claim was rated FALSE.
Drone attack in Shire, Tigray
Among claims of recent drone attacks in Tigray, an image was posted on Facebook on March 04 reporting that a drone strike took place in the town of Shire around 11:20 am amid an alleged secret negotiation.
HaqCheck interrogated the image and found out that it was taken from previous publications. The first image in the post was from an article published about Bayraktar TB2 Tactical UAV on Jan 6, 2021, on a website named Army Technology. The second image was taken from a tweet made on Oct 20, 2021.
Therefore the post was rated FALSE.
Famine and death in Tigray
During the month of March, false images about the famine and death in Tigray were also observed. A tweet made on March 13, 2022, shared an image along with a link to an article that talks about a famine in Tigray. The article quoted a university scholar and stated the number of deaths of thousands in the artificial famine in Tigray.
However, the image was old and taken from a report by Reuters on Sep 9, 2016, about the famine in Yemen.
Thus, HaqCheck rated the image FALSE.
A direct Phone call between PM Abiy and Debretsion
A controversial claim abruptly surfaced on social media platforms in the middle of last month. The claim was first made by Tom Gardner, East Africa correspondent for The Economist. He tweeted that there was a direct phone call between PM Abiy Ahmed and Debretsion Gebremichael, Chairman of Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Getachew Reda, a member of the Executive Committee of TPLF rejected that there was no phone conversation between PM Abiy and Debretsion since the beginning of the armed conflict.
Asked by Deutsche Welle (DW), Legesse Tulu, Minister of Government Communication Services denied the claim that PM Abiy and Debretsion talked to each other over the telephone.
In reaction to the journalist’s assertion, the Ethiopian Mass Media Authority issued a warning letter to Tom Gardner accusing him of circulating false information declining the information that there was a direct phone call between leaders of the belligerent parties.
Girma Wake being appointed as CEO of Ethiopian Airlines
A false report by a renowned English press came up after the former CEO of Ethiopian Airlines Tewolde GebreMariam resigned on Mar 23, 2022.
The report stated that Girma Wake was appointed CEO and Board Chairman of Ethiopian Airlines.
However, on Mar 24, 2022, it was announced that Mesfin Tasew, a former Chief Operating Officer of the airline was appointed as the new CEO of Ethiopian Airlines.
Therefore, HaqCheck rated the claim PARTLY FALSE.
Plane shot down by Eritrean army
Another claim that was fact-checked by HaqCheck was about a plane shot down by the Eritrean army trying to fly through Eritrean airspace from Sudan to Tigray. A picture captioned “Antonov plane that carried weapons from Sudan across Eritrea to Tigray was shot down by an Eritrean anti-aircraft” was shared on Mar 16, 2022.
Therefore, HaqCheck rendered the post False.
Scam: Noah Real Estate giving awards
A message was circulating on Telegram claiming that Noah Real Estate was giving awards to Telegram users who would send the message to others. The message on the Telegram channel reads that the real estate was awarding a two-bedroom apartment to those who will share the message to a significant number of users.
HaqCheck talked to the company to prove whether the Telegram channel belongs to it. Noah Real Estate confirmed that the information was false and that it doesn’t have any Telegram channel.
Controversies over the progress of the HR6600 and S3199 draft bills
There were controversies and false claims regarding the draft bills that were proposed against the parties in the Tigray armed conflict with potential sanctions.
The draft bills would be approved and enacted at the national level in the US since they are initiated by bodies of the American government. Russia and China can’t veto them.
The two drafted bills should pass through five stages to become law. The stages are; introduction to Foreign Relations Committees, approval by Senate, approval by House, approval by the President, and becoming law.
The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (SCFR) passed the draft on Mar 29, 2022, to the Senate to be voted on. To be law, this draft bill should be approved by the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the US President. The draft bills need a double majority vote, from the Senate and House, to be passed on to the President for final approval.
The draft bill HR6600 was voted on by the House Committee on Foreign Relations (HCFR) and passed to the US House of Representatives on Feb 8, 2022. Similarly, this proposed bill has to be approved by the Representatives, Senators, and the President to be enacted as law.
Thus, HaqCheck learned that these two drafted bills are not yet a law. They are in process and have to pass through three stages; the Senate, the House, and the President to be considered as law and for implementation.
Fresh deployment of Eritrean army on Tigray borders
An image was shared on Facebook along with a post on Mar 26, 2022, captioned, “Following PM Abiy Ahmed’s decision [the humanitarian truce] the Eritrean army deployed 13 modern military divisions to the [Tigray] border.”
The claim came after the federal government and TPLF agreed upon a humanitarian truce.
HaqCheck however searched out the image used to support the claim and confirmed that it was first published on Aug 2, 2019. It showed a military parade of the Eritrean Defense Forces (EDF) during the Silver Jubilee celebration of the launching of the National Service Program. The day was also marked by the graduation of the 32nd round national service program.
Therefore, HaqCheck rendered the post FALSE.
We recommend the government avail open access of information to the public and media. It should also provide timely and accurate information. Lack of information is the major factor behind massive disinformation dissemination on social media platforms.
HaqCheck urges social media users to cross-check information, images, videos, or claims before they share them with their fellows. They should be skeptical of information whose sources are unknown and should question the authenticity of social media content before they share it with others. They should also be cautious of potential scams and refrain from filling out forms instantly.
We urge social media content creators and outlets to be responsible and abstain from intentionally or unintentionally circulating false information.
HaqCheck always advocates accurate reporting. Media outlets and journalists should conduct thorough research and report the matter fully and correctly to prevent disinformation.