This analysis covered the disinformation and controversy trends observed during May 2022. These trends were mainly observed across various social media platforms.
The unsettled war in the northern parts of Ethiopia remained among the major factors of controversy and false information.
Fresh military engagements and full-scale war
Unconfirmed reports of recent military engagements among the belligerents of the armed conflict in the northern part of the country came out during May. It caused concerns that a full-scale war may erupt again between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and federal-led allied forces amid a hype of war preparations and warnings by warring parties.
This scenario was instantly accompanied by false claims. Most of the false claims that followed this situation used old and false images in a bid to prove different claims.
HaqCheck debunked an image-backed claim made on a Telegram channel that TPLF forces opened a new attack in the Tigray-Amhara border areas. It is confirmed that the image doesn’t show a new military engagement of a recent incursion by the TPLF forces and was taken during the Ethio-Eritrea border war two decades ago and was published in 2019 on a photo archive website called Negative Colors. It was used in an article written about the evolution of the Ethiopia-Eritrea relations from the border war to the recent rapprochement.
Another related claim was that TPLF was mobilizing armed forces to launch a new attack. The Facebook post shared an image that reads, “it was stated that TPLF has already organized itself and is launching the war”.
However, the image was found to be taken by photographer Ben Curtis on May 8, 2021, in Agulae, Tigray, and shows Ethiopian government soldiers riding in the back of a truck on a road.
Moreover, there was a claim that Eritrea destroyed more than thirteen thousand TPLF soldiers in a recent battle provoked by TPLF. The Facebook post shared a false image that also was used to support another claim at the same time.
A post emerged after a report by BBC that on May 8, Tigray forces launched a heavy artillery attack on areas bordering Eritrea.
However, the image used in the post was old and doesn’t support the claim. The image shows Eritrean army soldiers during the Ethio-Eritrea border war two decades ago.
Twitter becomes a platform for disinformation and controversy
The social media networking platform Twitter is becoming a major arena for disinformation and controversies in the Ethiopian social media landscape.
HaqCheck debunked false image-backed claims on Twitter recently. It has also become a site for controversial claims mainly regarding evolving political matters in Ethiopia.
The controversial claim that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed met with TPLF senior leaders in Nigeria was first made on Twitter. It grabbed social media users’ attention and the government denied the PM didn’t meet with the mentioned people.
Some false claims were also tracked on Twitter and fact-checked during May 2022.
For instance, a Twitter account with more than 1,100 followers shared three images on May 24 to support a claim that a public uprising recently erupted in Tigray and the people of Tigray demanded Abiy govern them. The tweet got many retweets and reactions.
However, HaqCheck found the two images on a previous Facebook post from DW Amharic on Oct 2, 2018, captioned, “university students and their families protested in the streets of Mekelle, Tigray. We will not send our students to unsafe places, our students should not make a meaningless sacrifice, states and the federal government should solve this issue,” were some of the writings printed on the posters held in the protest.
These instances imply that Twitter has become the major social media space for such disinformation and controversial claims.
Furthermore, we observed that random claims that emerged out of nowhere appeared during the month. Many claims follow events and contexts. But there were false claims that came with no traceable context or incidence.
Random false information published by a website that Ethiopia’s Lake Langano is found in the Gambella Regional State was fact-checked. However, Langano Lake is found in Oromia Regional State 200 kilometers by road south of Addis Ababa, on the border between the East Shewa Zone and Arsi Zones.
Therefore, the claim was confirmed False by HaqCheck.
Claims that used imposter or manipulated images emerged in the Ethiopian social media landscape.
This trend has been increasing recently. Images would be manipulated to support other unrelated claims.
For example, an image claimed to be a screenshot of a news report by the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC) was posted on Facebook with a claim that circulating on social media claiming to show a screenshot of a news report by the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC).
The image shows a picture of Shimels Abdisa, President of the Oromia Regional State, giving a speech. The Amharic caption on the image reads “The law enforcement operation we launched in the Amhara region is being conducted successfully.”
The image was taken from previous posts and edited and the overlay text was altered. HaqCheck confirmed that the picture of Shimelis Abdisa captioned by EBC was shared in his statement during Eid al-Fitr last year in 2021.
Screenshots accompanying false claims
A trend of using screenshots to support claims has been observed recently. HaqCheck debunked claims accompanied with screenshots.
On May 25, 2022, a tweet appeared claiming that Eritrean security officials recently revealed that Ethio 360 and Ethio Forum discussed online with senior TPLF leaders and agreed to work together to incite conflict and instability in Ethiopia.
The tweet presented a screenshot of a text written in Tigrinya to support the claim.
However, the screenshot text that reads the mentioned bodies held an online meeting and agreed to work hand in hand to sow conflict and instability in the country doesn’t confirm the claim. It was cropped from a Facebook post made on May 23, 2022. The Facebook post was made by a page named ‘Center for research and Documentation’ which claimed to be a news and media website. The page claimed that it got the information from its exclusive sources.
An element of scam was also tracked on social media sites targeting audiences. Telegram channels are also becoming a haven for scams and content with fraud elements.
A Telegram message was debunked that claimed that the US government offered twenty thousand jobs in the US for Ethiopians.
The channel by the name of “US Embassy Addis Ababa” with more than 127,000 subscribers imposters a message in the name of the US embassy in Ethiopia and appealed to subscribers to register and apply for the job.
The message requests to fill in personal information such as name, phone number, Address, and others.
The US Embassy in Ethiopia later posted a statement on its official Facebook page on May 26 saying that “there are fake posts about employment and visa opportunities in the United States on various social media platforms. All legitimate employment opportunities at the U.S. Embassy are posted on our website…”
HaqCheck urges social media users to be cautious and cross-check information rather than accepting and sharing instantly. They should look for original and trustable sources for matters.
It is recommended that social media content creators refrain from circulating false information. They should be responsible.
The government should guarantee full and open access to information to the media and public. Concerned government authorities should offer timely and sufficient information.
We urge political parties, media outlets, government offices, and other interest group entities to give the media and audiences accurate information.