Kenya: Meta Sued for $1.6 Billion USD for Fuelling Ethiopia Ethnic Violence
By Amnesty International
Meta must reform its business practices to ensure Facebook’s algorithms do not amplify hatred and fuel ethnic conflict, Amnesty International said today in the wake of a landmark legal action against Meta submitted in Kenya’s High Court.
The legal action claims that Meta promoted speech that led to ethnic violence and killings in Ethiopia by utilizing an algorithm that prioritizes and recommends hateful and violent content on Facebook. The petitioners seek to stop Facebook’s algorithms from recommending such content to Facebook users and compel Meta to create a 200 billion ($1.6 billion USD) victims’ fund. Amnesty International joins six other human rights and legal organizations as interested parties in the case.
“The spread of dangerous content on Facebook lies at the heart of Meta’s pursuit of profit, as its systems are designed to keep people engaged. This legal action is a significant step in holding Meta to account for its harmful business model,” said Flavia Mwangovya, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director of East Africa, Horn, and Great Lakes Region.
One of Amnesty’s staff members in the region was targeted as a result of posts on the social media platform.
“In Ethiopia, the people rely on social media for news and information. Because of the hate and disinformation on Facebook, human rights defenders have also become targets of threats and vitriol. I saw first-hand how the dynamics on Facebook harmed my own human rights work and hope this case will redress the imbalance,” said Fisseha Tekle, legal advisor at Amnesty International.
Fisseha Tekle is one of the petitioners bringing the case, after being subjected to a stream of hateful posts on Facebook for his work exposing human rights violations in Ethiopia. An Ethiopian national, he now lives in Kenya, fears for his life and dare not return to Ethiopia to see his family because of the vitriol directed at him on Facebook.
The legal action is also being brought by Abraham Meareg, the son of Meareg Amare, a University Professor at Bahir Dar University in northern Ethiopia, who was hunted down and killed in November 2021, weeks after posts inciting hatred and violence against him spread on Facebook. The case claims that Facebook only removed the hateful posts eight days after Professor Meareg’s killing, more than three weeks after his family had first alerted the company.
The Court has been informed that Abraham Meareg fears for his safety and is seeking asylum in the United States. His mother who fled to Addis Ababa is severely traumatized and screams every night in her sleep after witnessing her husband’s killing. The family had their home in Bahir Dar seized by regional police.
The harmful posts targeting Meareg Amare and Fisseha Tekle were not isolated cases. The legal action alleges Facebook is awash with hateful, inciteful and dangerous posts in the context of the Ethiopia conflict.
Meta uses engagement-based algorithmic systems to power Facebook’s news feed, ranking, recommendations and groups features, shaping what is seen on the platform. Meta profits when Facebook users stay on the platform as long as possible, by selling more targeted advertising.
The display of inflammatory content – including that which advocates hatred, constituting incitement to violence, hostility and discrimination – is an effective way of keeping people on the platform longer. As such, the promotion and amplification of this type of content is key to the surveillance-based business model of Facebook.
Internal studies dating back to 2012 indicated that Meta knew its algorithms could result in serious real-world harms. In 2016, Meta’s own research clearly acknowledged that “our recommendation systems grow the problem” of extremism.
In September 2022, Amnesty International documented how Meta’s algorithms proactively amplified and promoted content which incited violence, hatred, and discrimination against the Rohingya in Myanmar and substantially increasing the risk of an outbreak of mass violence.
“From Ethiopia to Myanmar, Meta knew or should have known that its algorithmic systems were fuelling the spread of harmful content leading to serious real-world harms,” said Flavia Mwangovya.
“Meta has shown itself incapable to act to stem this tsunami of hate. Governments need to step up and enforce effective legislation to rein in the surveillance-based business models of tech companies.”
Deadly double standards
The legal action also claims that there is a disparity in Meta’s approach in crisis situations in Africa compared to elsewhere in the world, particularly North America. The company has the capability to implement special adjustments to its algorithms to quickly remove inflammatory content during a crisis. But despite being deployed elsewhere in the world, according to the petitioners none of these adjustments were made during the conflict in Ethiopia, ensuring harmful content continued to proliferate.
Internal Meta documents disclosed by whistle-blower Frances Haugen, known as the Facebook Papers, showed that the US $300 billion company also did not have sufficient content moderators who speak local languages. A report by Meta’s Oversight Board also raised concerns that Meta had not invested sufficient resources in moderating content in languages other than English.
“Meta has failed to adequately invest in content moderation in the Global South, meaning that the spread of hate, violence, and discrimination disproportionally impacts the most marginalized and oppressed communities across the world, and particularly in the Global South.”
Twitter to Permit Only Verified Accounts in For You Recommendations
Starting from April 15th, only verified Twitter accounts will be eligible to be in For You recommendations.
This was disclosed by Twitter’s CEO Elon Musk on his Twitter handle, which according to him is the only realistic way to address advanced AI bot swarms taking over the platform.
Musk wrote on Twitter;
“Starting April 15th, only verified accounts will be eligible to be in For You recommendations. This is the only realistic way to address advanced AI bot swarms taking over. It is otherwise a hopeless losing battle. Voting in polls will require verification for the same reason. That said, it’s okay to give verified bot accounts if they follow terms of service & don’t impersonate a human”.
Fake or spam accounts otherwise known as bot accounts are visible on Twitter which are usually automated and not run by human users. They often make use of the reply function or direct messages to send adverts or scams to users or represent attempts to influence public discourse by tweeting something controversial.
Other fake accounts exist purely to boost the metrics of individual users, who can buy followers, likes, and retweets from bot sellers who control thousands or millions of fake accounts. Because they also inflate Twitter’s daily user numbers, they pose a threat to the company’s advertising revenue.
It would be recalled that before Musk acquired Twitter, he wanted to opt out of the $ 44 billion deal after he queried Twitter’s claim in SEC filings that a small proportion of its users were fake or spam. Musk further suggested that he could seek to pay a lower price for Twitter because of the fake accounts issue. However, after a relatively short court drama, Musk agreed to purchase the platform for the initial offer and has so far devised different means to address the bot issue on the platform.
Before the recent strategy to reduce bots by permitting only verified accounts in For You Recommendations, Musk had earlier rolled out a paid verification feature that will charge $8 per month to verify users’ accounts, which he claimed that the plan would solve the platform’s issues with bots and trolls while creating a new revenue stream for the company.
Musk believes that paid verification increases the costs of making bots by 10,000 percent and makes it easier to identify them. Meanwhile, the paid verification policy raised concerns about misinformation on the platform, as virtually anyone willing to pay the price could attempt to impersonate a public figure under the guise of a verification mark. However, in a bid to prevent this, Twitter has taken a step further by reviewing Twitter Blue accounts before granting them verification.
Moving forward, Investors King understands that Musk has also recently disclosed that only Verified accounts will be able to take part in polls on the platform. This is coming after a Twitter user suggested that Blue subscribers should be the only ones that can vote in policy-related polls.
Elon Musk Unveils Twitter Valuation at $20 Billion, Sees Clear Path to $250 Valuation
Recent reports reveal that Twitter CEO Elon Musk has put the company’s valuation at $20 billion, which is a significant drop from the price he purchased the company in October last year at $44 billion.
Despite the unimpressive company’s valuation, the billionaire owner told employees that he sees a clear but difficult path to a $250 billion valuation, a hypothetical outcome that would make the company’s current stock price worth 10 times as much in the future.
He further added that the company would allow employees to sell stock every six months, a practice that is also implemented at SpaceX, his space equipment manufacturing company. The sales of private stock would allow employees to have liquid stock but without the stock price chaos and lawsuit burdens of a public company.
Musk disclosed that radical changes including mass layoffs and cost-cutting would be carried out at the company where necessary, to avoid bankruptcy and streamline operations. The decline in the valuation of Twitter doesn’t come as a surprise owing to the fact that since Musk’s takeover of the micro-blogging platform, he has carried out a series of changes, especially in content operations which have scared off advertisers from the platform.
It would be recalled that at the start of 2023, the company’s daily revenue was reportedly down 40 percent from a year ago after more than 500 of its top advertising partners such as Audi, Pfizer, Ford, and the likes paused ads spending on the platform.
Also, concerns about an increase in hate speech on the platform after its acquisition by Musk who described himself as a “free speech absolutist” prompted advertisers to withdraw in droves. They have also been alarmed by a spate of impersonator accounts that flourished on the site after a botched relaunch of its blue tick scheme for verified users. Ever since, Twitter has remained in the grip of an advertising squeeze, after the social media platform hit a 40% drop in revenue.
Advertising is disclosed to be the main source of income for Twitter, which represents more than 85% of the company’s revenues. In 2021, advertising accounted for more than 90% of its $5.1bn in revenue. Musk perturbed by the company’s revenue decline in a bid to woo back advertisers on the platform, offered free advertisements to brands.
Musk rolled out a lucrative plan where companies who spend more than $500,000 on Twitter ads will receive a 100% match on their spending in equivalent marketing value up to $1 million. The platform also partnered with ad tech companies DoubleVerify and IAS on brand safety initiatives amid advertiser exits. These platforms will inform advertisers if their ad is placed around inappropriate content.
Investors King understands that Musk has been working tirelessly to increase Twitter’s revenue, the recently launched Twitter Blue program according to reports looks to have around 300,000 subscribers, which would mean that Twitter is currently bringing in an extra revenue of around $2.4 million per month via the program, or $7.2 million per quarter.
Known for his ambitious nature, Musk will continue to look for ways to generate more revenue for Twitter, after he recently told employees that “Twitter is being reshaped rapidly”.
Twitter Paid Blue Service Made Less Profit Three Months After Relaunch
Recent reports reveal that microblogging platform Twitter paid blue service has made less profit since its relaunch three months ago.
The giant social media platform relaunch of its blue service which comes with enhanced features such as an edit button, verification badge, etc, has earned the platform just $11 million in mobile-based subscriptions since it was acquired by Elon Musk.
Although the $11 million is no doubt an underwhelming amount, it should be noted that web-based subscriptions are not included in the calculations. Investors Kings understands that the figure represents the statistics of the 20 markets where the Twitter Blue service has been launched.
Meanwhile, Twitter’s blue service with verifications is now available everywhere, and the old checkmarks will vanish on April 1 this year, which may likely increase Twitter’s revenue. Reports show that Twitter Blue has more than 385,000 mobile subscribers worldwide on both iOS and Android. The U.S. is its biggest market which accounts for 246,000 subscribers spending around $8 million through their mobile devices.
The decline in the usage of the blue service has been attributed to the overall uncertain economy, which had slowed down market spending. It is also happening at a time when the platform has witnessed a massive drop in its revenue after several giant brands such as Ford, Audi, Pfizer, etc paused their advertisements. Ad revenue represented $1.08 billion of Twitter’s $1.18 billion total revenue in the second quarter of 2022, the last period when the company’s financial data was publicly available.
It would be recalled that Musk in a bid to lure brands back to the platform, unveiled a lucrative plan where companies who spend more than $500,000 on Twitter ads will receive a 100% match on their spending in equivalent marketing value up to $1 million. It has also partnered with ad tech companies DoubleVerify and IAS on brand safety initiatives amid advertiser exits. These platforms will inform advertisers if their ad is placed around inappropriate content.
Ever since acquiring Twitter, Musk has continuously attempted to renege on his $44 billion acquisition after admitting that the company was experiencing revenue issues and cost challenges. Known for his ambitious nature, Musk will continue to look for ways to generate more revenue for Twitter.
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