More Than Armed Oppositions Social Media Becomes a Headache for Abiy’s Government

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Prime minister Abiy recent two pages statement gave robust critics about social media. He gave an illustration of a needle to emphasize how social media actors affect the community. He wrote “needle has an eye, but it doesn’t see the thread following while it is passing by a close. A needle puts a long strand into a close while it is passing by.” He related social media actors with the needle by saying “when they strike our country with their needle-like words, and thousands will follow them without seeing their destination.” He added that their concern is acquiring lots of followers rather than watching out how their ‘poison’ brought the country in a dangerous situation.”

On his message, the prime minister described the current situation as “Ethiopia and Ethiopians are in tension with two extreme opinions.” But he avoided mentioning specific activists that have lots of followers. He added “lie never becomes true by saying it out loud, writing it boldly, followed by many fans or promoted by public figures. The forever truth here is Ethiopia, which was built on the firm ground so that it will never fall of fake news.

Social media took a big credit for the past political changes in Ethiopia including Abiy’s premiership after a massive protest in the country. Jawar Mohamed played a central role in the Oromo youth movement through social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to organize demonstrations.

Ethiopia’s government had blocked the internet during the days of protests in Oromia on and other regions in 2016. Mobile internet remained down across the country after officials announced national emergency in Oct. 2016, with the state banning the use of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to communicate or document the ongoing unrest.

After the arrival of Abiy as a prime minister, social media activities has boosted. It has put lots of pressure on the government. Demolition of thousands of houses in Legetafo by the government to “enforce the rule of law”, Gedeo Humanitarian crisis, Addis Ababa Ownership movements in Oromia region and many more were the main topics for social media activists.

Even though some social media activities has a positive effect of pointing out the crisis and unjust, it is a medium for hate speech and misinformation. Amhara regional state Vice President Melaku Alebel said last week on a public meeting “currently the war is not through armors but fraudulent social media activities. We should say no to those who are trying to degrade our personality and unity through social media.”

Social media is being a headache for most of the African countries. Last Tuesday Egypt’s top media regulator put into effect tighter restrictions that allow the state to block websites and social media accounts with more than 5,000 followers if they are deemed a threat to national security.

PM Abiy’s two-page latter with hard critics on social media activist indicates Ethiopian government is going in the direction to take measures on social media misinformation and hate speech that put the security of the country into danger.