Ayele Addis Ambelu Ayeleradio@gmail.com Reports every minute linked with 24 media centers https://au.int/en/pressreleases/20220202/covid-19-pandemic-insecurity-and-instability-and-socio-economic-development Addressing the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the increasing threats of insecurity from conflicts and terrorism, the unconstitutional changes […]News
The wind of Turkey in lands and people of Africa blown in peace, education, investment and economic alliances. The African demand on economic diplomacy with Turkey raise with African future. so, Africa seeks […]News
On September 18th, 2021, the 7th Anniversary of the September 18th HWPL World Peace Summit was held online. This year’s event dealt with the progress of international efforts and the plans to promote […]News
On September 18th, 2021, the 7th Anniversary of the September 18th HWPL World Peace Summit was held online. This year’s event dealt with the progress of international efforts and the plans to promote the peace agenda in the ‘New Normal’ era shifting from the post-Covid to the with-Covid.
The organizer of the event, Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light (HWPL), has been conducting citizen-centered peacebuilding activities to create “a culture of peace” advocated by the UN and international community to set up an environment of peaceful coexistence since the World Peace Summit in 2014.
This event presented the concerted action for sustainable peace with cases from various sectors such as international law, religion, education, and the media. Also, it addressed international cooperation to overcome the current crisis that threatens the coexistence and harmony of mankind, which has come to the fore during the pandemic.
Peacebuilding efforts led by HWPL to establish legal foundations and international norms for peace through connecting global actors are embodied with its effort to advocate the international law for peace by drafting the Declaration of Peace and Cessation of War (DPCW).
“The DPCW Handbook enables us to systematically teach international law and the essence of peace to these students and others. It enables them to become lecturers in the following course,” said Dr. MizanurRahman, Chief Advisor of Asian Association of Law Professors (AALP) as well as Former Chair of National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh (NHRC-BD), highlighting the need to encourage public discourse on peacebuilding by academia.
In addition to the basic principles of peace assigned to nations to uphold, the DPCW has presented principles that should be dealt with in the present era, such as prohibiting the use of force, fostering religious freedom, and civic participation to spread a culture of peace. In particular, it states that efforts for peace come from all members of the global society by identifying not only nation-states but also international organizations and all citizens as the main actors of building peace.
“We know that it will be hard to achieve peace if we are not all working for it. This is why we need to encourage children, the youth, and adults to prevent verbal abuse and work towards reducing inequalities and eradicating disparities to achieve a more equitable, stable, and peaceful world,” said Former President of Ecuador, Dr. RosaliaArteaga Serrano.
Hon. Octavia Alfred, Minister of Education, Human Resource Planning, Vocational Training, and National Excellence of Dominica, said that the students learn the necessity of mutual coexistence and cooperation through HWPL peace education and pass on to their friends, parents, and teachers what they have learned. She addressed it also deals with concepts that can develop psychosocial competency skills, such as respect for diversity, order, conflict resolution, and negotiation, so it is being used for teacher’s training.
“Our objective is to end wars in the global village and establish peace and make it a permanent legacy for future generations. Without peace, everything that we managed to build would be destroyed. … We should not let this happen. So, to achieve peace, shouldn’t we achieve our objective with the same spirit?” said Chairman Man Hee Lee of HWPL at the event.
via Ayele Addis Ambelu Ayeleradio@gmail.com
By Claire Wilmot, Ellen Tveteraas, and Alexi Drew Date Range November 4, 2020 – Ongoing Region Ethiopia and Ethiopian diaspora Network Terrain FacebookMedia outletsTwitterWebsites Attribution Activists (attribution)Public relations or marketing firmState actorPartisans Target […]News
By Claire Wilmot, Ellen Tveteraas, and Alexi Drew
Date Range November 4, 2020 – Ongoing Region Ethiopia and Ethiopian diaspora Network Terrain FacebookMedia outletsTwitterWebsites Attribution Activists (attribution)Public relations or marketing firmState actorPartisans Target Activists (target)Political party Strategy Gaming an algorithmTrading up the chain Vulnerabilities Active crisisBreaking news eventPrejudiceWedge issue Observable Outcomes Media exposureMisidentification Mitigation Account suspensionCivil society responseCommunity mitigationCritical pressDebunkingFlagging Campaign Adaptation Tactical redeployment
This case study focuses on competing information campaigns related to the active military conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, which began in November, 2020. Amid the information and access constraints during the ongoing crisis, contesting narratives designed to influence international understanding of the conflict played out largely on Twitter. Employing a mixed methods approach, this case study details the strategies and tactics of two key online communities participating in these outward-facing advocacy campaigns: the Ethiopian government and its supporters, and Tigrayan organizers and their allies in the diaspora and in Ethiopia.
Tensions between the Tigray region and Ethiopia’s federal government increased significantly when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed dissolved the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), to form his Prosperity Party in 2019. The EPRDF coalition ruled Ethiopia for nearly 30 years, and was made up of four political parties representing regional ethnic groups. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) controlled many of the most powerful positions in this coalition. Abiy Ahmed was a long-serving member of the EPRDF, but came to power on a wave of popular protests and was initially celebrated as a reformist Prime Minister. His peace deal with Eritrea won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019. Since coming to office he has pursued a political agenda that challenges Ethiopia’s system of “ethnic federalism.” Tigrayans and some other minority ethnic groups worry that this “unitarist” vision will result in their marginalization.
On November 4, 2020, forces loyal to the TPLF attacked Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF) in Tigray. TPLF leadership called the attack preemptive, saying they acted because of information suggesting the ENDF was preparing to attack them, a claim the ENDF denies.1 The central Ethiopian government launched a military response to the TPLF’s attack that day and declared a state of emergency in Tigray.2
The same day, November 4, the federal government shut down the internet and telecommunications across the region, creating an information vacuum.3 Journalists, aid groups, and researchers have struggled to access the region since.4 Telecommunications were restored at certain points during the conflict, but not consistently. The federal government declared a ceasefire and withdrew from Mekelle, Tigray’s capital, on June 28, 2021.5 At the time of writing in August, 2021, communications had not been restored to the region.6
Amid the information and access constraints, competing information campaigns emerged to frame the conflict for English-language Twitter. On one side, Tigrayans and their allies used Twitter to engage in online activism and to share information about events taking place in the region. In reaction to this movement, the Ethiopian government and its supporters launched counter information campaigns to discredit Tigrayan activists, framing the violence as fabricated, exaggerated, or caused by the TPLF. Both media campaigns are directed toward the international community.
This case study tracks the rise and evolution of both information campaigns. It is a complex case that interacts with the geopolitics of the Horn of Africa, historical trauma, activism, hate speech, misinformation, platform manipulation, and propaganda, all in the midst of an ongoing civil conflict.
It is important to bear in mind that the politics of information has a burdened history in Ethiopia. For most of its rule, the EPRDF censored free press and built a robust censorship and surveillance infrastructure designed to quell political dissent.7 Some Ethiopian media outlets and social media commentators that appeared independent during the EPRDF years were reportedly paid by the TPLF to spread pro-government messages online.8 At the same time, many media platforms that described themselves as independent had strong ties to opposition groups, reportedly pursuing political agendas under the auspices of journalism.9 Research suggests that the limited press freedom that characterized Ethiopia’s recent history has inflicted lasting damage on Ethiopia’s media landscape.10
Our analysis suggests that fear of disinformation poses an additional challenge in this context. “Fake news” functions as a kind of political bogeyman, allowing people to dismiss substantiated reports of atrocity crimes against Tigrayans as fabricated or overblown. The belief in an omnipotent TPLF disinformation campaign may also be politically useful for groups looking to consolidate new forms of power in Ethiopia. Research indicates disinformation accusations may make it easier to ban or discredit genuine online activism.11 By highlighting these dangers, we do not suggest that mis- and disinformation plays no role in this conflict — both campaigns have shared misleading, unverified, and false information, to varying degrees and effects. However, making careful distinctions among actors and the types of information being spread around this conflict may be one means of combating the kind of binary thinking that appears to be fueling polarization around this conflict.
Critically, all our interviewees described a year shaped by anxiety and fear for the future for their country, communities, and loved ones. Tigrayans are living in fear of collective punishment for crimes and corruption during the EPRDF years, and described feeling “gaslight” or “scapegoated” when other Ethiopians dismiss as propaganda credible reports of atrocity crimes against their families and communities.12 Ethiopians currently supporting the government told us that they fear that the TPLF is exaggerating claims of violence in Tigray to provoke international intervention, which they believe would foreclose the possibility of the democratic transition so many struggled for.13 Still others we spoke to feared communal violence across the country, which they believe deserves more media attention.14
To trace the online campaigns that have emerged around the Tigray conflict, we used mixed methods: data collection, interviews with campaign participants and organizers, and open source and secondary research. We describe these methods in detail in Appendix I. For more context about Ethiopia’s history, please see Appendix II, which will aid in interpreting these events, especially in understanding the different political positions around the wedge issue of ethnic federalism versus centralized political power.
When the conflict began on November 4, the internet watchdog organization Netblocks reported an internet network disruption in the Tigray region from 1am local time.15 Immediately after, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced on Facebook and Twitter that a “red line” had been crossed and that a “law enforcement” operation was underway to apprehend TPLF leadership.16 English-speaking Tigrayans in the diaspora encouraged supporters to take to Twitter, circulating instructions and videos on WhatsApp describing how to use the platform to raise awareness about the conflict. Thousands of Tigrayans in Ethiopia and the diaspora joined Twitter in the following days, according to an analysis of 90,000 tweets.17 Interviewees also confirmed that many had joined Twitter for the first time in order to participate in online activism.18
One of the most successful examples of activist mobilization in terms of volume of participants is the group Stand With Tigray, founded in the US. “On November 4th, when we heard about the war, we froze,” Lwam Gidey, a US-based undergraduate student originally from Tigray, and the co-founder of Stand With Tigray, told the authors in a phone interview.19 After the Prime Minister’s announcement, Gidey tried to contact her family in Tigray. “We found that there is no telecommunications and we couldn’t reach them,” she said.20 “It was really scary.”
The next day Gidey and her sister began to build a website to raise awareness about the conflict. They launched it November 6, and organized “copy-and-paste” Twitter campaigns via the website. (See figure 1 below).
Figure 1: An example of a copypasta Twitter campaign hosted on the Stand With Tigray website in November 2020. Source: https://web.archive.org/web/20201113065541/https://www.standwithtigray….
“We don’t know anyone political, we don’t have connections. We’re just students,” Gidey said. “So I did some research about how best to build a website, and on November 6 we decided that we would call it ‘Stand With Tigray.’ We wanted to call on everyone who was concerned about what was happening to come and stand with us, to end the war and to open up access to Tigray.”21
By the following week, new accounts tweeting in support of Tigray—many using Stand With Tigray hashtags—were responsible for about a quarter of all tweets in English about the conflict.22
As of August 2021, Stand With Tigray has about 20 regular volunteers who organize campaigns and streamline messaging, according to Gidey. Dozens of others are semi-regular, contributing on an as-needed basis. “As more and more people found out about our platform, they would email us wanting to get involved. So now we have more people helping write tweets, people who focus on infographics, and some people who help write and edit tweets and letters,” said Gidey.23 Stand With Tigray does not pay their regular or occasional volunteers, as they are currently self funded. They applied for non-profit status in the US in July, 2021.24
The government and its supporters often describe Tigrayan campaign participants as “pro-TPLF” or members of the TPLF. This is a complicated but important distinction. According to interviews and data analysis, participants in Tigrayan Twitter campaigns may be best understood along a continuum—on one side are Tigrayans and allies who do not identify with any political party, like Stand With Tigray, but are engaging in anti-war and humanitarian activism. Further along the continuum are activists who support the TPLF politically (or the Tigray Defence Forces (TDF) tactically).25 This category has grown after months of fighting. At the far end of the continuum are public members of the TPLF, though they account for a smaller proportion of users.26 Many participants told us that participating in online campaigns was one way of feeling like they were “doing something” to support their families in Tigray.27
This case study focuses primarily on Stand With Tigray and Omna Tigray because our analysis showed that they play key roles in Tigray Twitter campaign networks. Stand With Tigray operators told us that they have tried to keep their advocacy apolitical.28 But the conflict is political in nature, and operators and participants of some advocacy groups appear to have taken a more overtly political stance as the conflict has progressed.
A major wedge issue that divides the two campaigns is the degree of political power that should be concentrated in regional governments vis-a-vis the federal government. Many participants in Tigrayan campaigns see Ethiopia’s version of “ethnic federalism” as a means of preserving “unity” in Ethiopia rather than as a tool for secession, as its critics charge.29 They, like activists from some other ethnic groups, such as the Oromo, worry that without a political arrangement that gives significant power to regional governments, majoritarian politics will leave no space for them to express their cultural identities or pursue regional political interests.30 Government supporters often blame ethnic federalism for entrenching divisions among Ethiopia’s many different ethno-linguistic groups.31
In response to pro-Tigrayan campaigns, Ethiopian state actors and networks of non-government supporters launched their own campaigns to influence international audiences. The most active participants in these networks promote a concept of Ethiopian “unity” that Abiy has pursued since forming the Prosperity Party.32 A major, sustained hashtag campaign in pro-government circles is #UnityForEthiopia.
Major online players in this category include Ethiopian government officials, a coalition of diaspora advocacy groups, individuals and organizations who feel the war is just or necessary, and individuals with ties to the Eritrean government, according to our network analysis and interviews. These participants can also be understood along a continuum of political affiliation and involvement.
We do not have insight into the planning phase of the pro-government response to the pro-Tigray campaign. However, by December, Tigrayan activists had significantly expanded the frequency and volume of their campaigns, which prompted government supporters to organize in response. According to our analysis, about a quarter of accounts that started organizing to combat Tigrayan narratives in December had joined Twitter in July 2020. This uptick in pro-government online activity coincided with a series of protests that emerged in the aftermath of the murder of musician and political activist Hachulu Hundessa, who played a crucial role in inspiring youth protests across the Oromia region in the leadup to Abiy’s appointment as Prime Minister.33 Other government supporters used older social media accounts that had been dormant for some time but began to re-engage in political discourse in July of 2020. With the onset of the conflict in November, these accounts turned their focus to what was going on in Tigray.
Other participants in this campaign joined Twitter independent of any organized campaign to combat what they described as TPLF disinformation. One early participant said that they joined Twitter in November to counter TPLF “fake news,” and that they believed tweets from Tigrayan activists were part of the TPLF’s strategy to derail Abiy’s political transition and restore themselves to power.34 Participants in pro-government campaigns have different political leanings and degrees of political involvement, but they share a common foe—the TPLF.
On December 15, groups and individuals who felt Abiy’s actions in Tigray were justified or were being misrepresented organized a meeting on the situation for American policymakers and members of prominent think tanks, according to one of the organizers of the meeting.35 During the meeting, they discussed the need to counter what they saw as the TPLF’s manipulation of the conflict narrative in international discourse, and decided to form an advocacy coalition of their own, known as the Global Ethiopia Advocacy Nexus (GLEAN).36 Glean has become one of the largest organizing platforms for those currently supporting the government, according to our network analysis.37 Key operators of GLEAN maintained that their organization is not aligned with any political party, despite historic ties between operators and Ethiopian political groups. They said they see Abiy as a bulwark against the TPLF and currently support him for that reason. They told us this support is not ideological, but contingent on his actions.38
GLEAN is led by Neamin Zeleke, a long-time member of the Ethiopian opposition during the EPRDF. GLEAN is a coalition made up of four main organizations. The first three are the Ethiopian and American Development Council based in Colorado, Advocates for Ethiopia based in Los Angeles, and an organization called Voters Voice, which consists of younger activists across the US, according to Zeleke.39 “GLEAN is a platform of civic organizations established to mobilize Ethiopians who were not part of our political movement,” said Zeleke.40
The fourth and perhaps the most central is the Ethiopian Advocacy Network, which was established as a communications group by members of an armed political opposition group known as Ginbot Sabat (G7), founded in 2008.41 G7 was made up of members from a political party that made unprecedented gains against the EPRDF during Ethiopia’s violently disputed 2005 elections.42 The aftermath of those elections saw severe government crackdowns on opposition figures. State security forces killed nearly 200 protesters and arrested an estimated 30,000 opposition supporters.43
“As far as some opposition groups were concerned, 2005 was the moment when the prospects of peacefully competing with the EPRDF and the TPLF disappeared,” said William Davison, Senior Ethiopia Analyst at the International Crisis Group in a phone interview. “After that, Ginbot 7 was created, and some members of the Ethiopian opposition started their alliances with President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea. It’s the bitterness caused by that history, but particularly the experience of 2005, that is partly driving some of the events we’re seeing today.”
Zeleke served as the head of G7’s Foreign Affairs wing until 2018.44 From 2015 and 2018, he spent about half his time in Eritrea, where he says he trained insurgents for Ginbot 7 in politics and leadership.45 After Abiy came to power Ginbot 7 suspended operations.46 Some of G7’s former leaders went on to form the Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice party, also known as EZEMA.47
Zeleke also helped found and expand Ethiopian Satellite Television and Radio (ESAT), a diaspora-based channel that broadcasts in Amharic and English and is opposed to the EPRDF.48 During Zeleke’s time at ESAT, reports indicate he was the subject of surveillance by the Information Network Security Agency (INSA)—a state intelligence agency that Abiy helped to establish in the EPRDF.49 Individuals associated with ESAT play significant roles in Ethiopian politics.50
Zeleke is also no stranger to the role of online advocacy in promoting political change. Drawing inspiration from online activism during the Arab Spring in 2011, he organized online campaigns against the EPRDF. “We organized a movement which means ‘Enough’ in Amharic, to do similar things on social media,” he said.
Despite Zeleke’s history of political involvement, he maintains that GLEAN is politically independent, self-funded, and does not work formally with the Ethiopian government.51 He had taken a break from activism and politics when Abiy started enacting reforms, but returned to prevent what he calls “ethnonationalism” from threatening the political transition.52
GLEAN has an editorial team and strategic documents outlining two “layers” of online action, according to Zeleke. The first focuses on recruitment—GLEAN members actively sought out to recruit accounts with many followers to their cause. The second coordinates messaging and shares information. This takes place mainly in Twitter “rooms,” WhatsApp groups, and a workplace management platform called Flock. On these platforms, operators and participants discuss communication strategies and write tweets for campaigns, according to Zeleke.53
“We [GLEAN] created a synergy that attracted more new and young dynamic people who are now in various work groups and focus teams, doing letter campaigns, digital media, editing, organizing, and doing advocacy and outreach,” he said.54
Online campaigns responding to the conflict have coincided with a significant uptick in Twitter use in Ethiopia. Prior to the conflict, Facebook consistently dwarfed Twitter’s approximately 7 percent share of Internet traffic in the country, according to data from StatCounter.55 As the conflict developed, Twitter use skyrocketed, and by March of 2021 Twitter’s share of internet traffic in the country had surpassed Facebook’s, rising to 44 percent, according to analysis conducted by the DFR Lab.56
At this stage, a two-way relationship developed between social media campaigns and other forms of media. According to tweets, both sides sought to make their hashtags trend, an example of gaming the algorithm. In the screenshot below (figure 2), UnityForEthiopia, a pro-government account, describes hashtag trending as Twitter’s “currency.”
Figure 2: A screenshot from the website created to host UnityForEthiopia’s hashtag campaigns, January 7, 2021. Source: www.unityforethiopia.net/archive
Figure 3: Total volume of tweets per hashtag over time, during the seeding phase. Green trend lines represent pro-Tigray hashtags, whereas the blue trend lines represent pro-government hashtags. Both sides aimed to make their hashtags achieve trending status on Twitter. Twitter’s firehose API accessed via AKTEK.
In early November, Tigrayan activists began using Twitter to create and promote hashtags such as #StopTheWarOnTigray, #TigrayGenocide, and #IStandWithTigray, which became part of “copy-and-paste” campaigns promoted on sites like Stand With Tigray (see figure 4 below). These campaigns were responsible for very large volumes of tweets in November, at the earliest stages of the conflict (See figure 3 above for an analysis of tweet volume per hashtag). Moreoever, the use of the word “genocide” in Tigrayan campaigns became a flashpoint for pro-government campaigners responding to the accusation.
Figure 4: Example of a campaign tweet from Stand With Tigray urging participants to use specific hashtags and who to target in their mentions. Source: https://twitter.com/SWTigray/status/1339078254410387457
During the initial information vacuum, Tigrayan campaign participants and operators spread some unverified rumors. Some of these rumors were first posted by TPLF-officials. A prominent example of the spread of false information early in the conflict is the rumour that the Tekeze dam was bombed in early November, which appears to have originated with TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael on Tigrayan television networks, which could have been an intentional effort to seed a false narrative.57 There was no evidence the dam was bombed. When telecommunications improved and more reporting became available in late November, media reports began to form the basis of their hashtag campaigns and hearsay or demonstrable false information became less common, according to our analysis. Summaries of reports were circulated as part of copy-and-paste and click-to-tweet campaigns, often tagging accounts perceived to have global influence (see figure 3 above).
Activists took advantage of emerging information and international press to inform their campaigns. For example, following Amnesty International’s report on the Axum massacre, released February 26,58 pro-Tigrayan Twitter accounts amplified it using the hashtag #AxumMassacre. The report confirmed rumours that had been circulating for months—that Eritrean soldiers had massacred hundreds of Tigrayan civilians in the historic city of Axum between November 19 and 29, 2020. According to our data, #AxumMassacre was tweeted nearly 140,000 times in one day in late February, 2021 (see figure 5 below).
Figure 5: Graph depicting the number of tweets about Amnesty International’s Axum report. The blue trend line represents tweets using #AxumMassagre, a pro-Tigrayan hashtag, and the red trend line represents tweets using either #FakeAxumMassacre or #AmnestyUsedTPLFSources, two pro-government hashtags. Twitter’s Firehose API accessed via AKTEK.
From late November onward, pro-government networks promoted hashtag campaigns, while also sharing slogans, government statements, and government-backed fact checks. They also spread media reports that supported their narrative of the conflict, as well as content that accused Tigrayan activists (without evidence) of being part of a massive TPLF disinformation campaign.
On November 11, 2020, an account called the State of Emergency Fact check (SOEFactCheck) appeared on Twitter.59 Soon after, the government’s spokesperson sent journalists an email urging them to follow the account, stating, “get the latest and fact-based information on the State of Emergency and Rule of Law Operations being undertaken in Tigray Region by the FDRE Federal Government on the official social media accounts.”60 Identical statements were shared by the official account of the Prime Minister’s office.61 The SOEFactCheck account issued government statements and updates on the conflict’s progression, as well as corrective statements in response to media reports and activism (see figure 6 below for example).62
On November 25, the SOEFactCheck account called out an error in a BBC report about the conflict. “We would like to alert all that PM @AbiyAhmedAli has never said these quoted words and hold @BBCMonitoring responsible for spreading disinformation. The tweet has been deleted 4 hours after spreading something that was never said. @BBCWorld.”63 In this case, the BBC had misquoted the Prime Minister. Its Twitter account later wrote, “We have deleted an earlier tweet on Ethiopia which was based on a video clip broadcast on Fana TV this morning which we misreported. We are reviewing what went wrong and offer our sincere apologies for the error.”64
Mistakes by major news outlets strengthened the “disinformation” narrative central to the pro-government campaign. Government supporters also began to capitalize on any example of unverified or false information spread by Tigrayan activists as evidence of TPLF disinformation.
Figure 6: Example of an SOE fact check tweet. Source: https://twitter.com/SOEFactCheck/status/1371346305730088962
Initially, pro-government campaigns mimicked Tigrayan campaigns, and set up websites to host click-to-tweet campaigns.67 One major hashtag campaign launched early on was #EthiopiaPrevails, which first appeared on Twitter on November 15, alongside #UnityForEthiopia, which predates the conflict but has been a consistent hashtag used by government supporters. As the conflict progressed new hashtags appeared, such as #TPLFisTheCause, which were picked up and circulated by official government accounts, Ethiopian ambassadors (see figure 7 below), and some media outlets.68
Figure 7: Example of the Ethiopian embassy in the UK using one of the pro-government hashtags that began circulating at the beginning of the conflict. Source: https://twitter.com/EthioEmbassyUK/status/1344225829165936640
Another key tactic of pro-government campaigners was to undermine witness credibility. This tactic was first observed in online discourse as early as late November, but the narrative deepened and gained momentum after a cascade of critical media reports in early 2021. Disturbing reports from international media based on refugee testimony in Sudan in November69 prompted a response by the SOE Fact Check, which issued a statement claiming that refugees being interviewed by international media were TPLF operatives (see figure 8 and 9 below).70
Figure 8: The SOEFactCheck account’s initial tweet seeding the narrative about refugees and journalists’ sources being infiltrated by the TPLF. Source: https://twitter.com/SOEFactCheck/status/1331261456617234432
Figure 9: The reach and spread of the SOEFactCheck tweet stating that TPLF had infiltrated refugee communities. “Reach” refers to the initial number of users who saw the Tweet, while “spread” reflects the wider audience after retweets and other shares. Source: AKTEK.
It was picked up and circulated by government support networks, quickly reaching an audience that exceeded anything the “fact check” account had produced to that point. The government provided no evidence to substantiate these claims. It subsequently claimed that all refugees were young men, and therefore TPLF militants.71 UNHCR data on refugee demographics showed 45 percent were children and 43 percent were women.72 The government later took steps to prevent refugees from accessing routes into Sudan.73 These messages served to pre-emptively undermine the credibility of reporting on the degree of violence and civilian suffering recounted by non-government sources.74
The belief that the TPLF are posing as victims of violence to misinform the world became a central theme in pro-government discourse throughout the conflict.75 The most notable example of this came in the aftermath of Amnesty International’s report on the massacre of Tigrayan civilians in Axum. Pro-government accounts pushed the notion that TPLF had infiltrated the media and biased the report, gaining traction with hashtags like #FakeAxumMassacre and #AmnestyUsedTPLFSources. Although they achieved fewer overall tweets than the opposing Tigrayan hashtags sharing the content of the report, our analysis shows that pro-government accounts tend to have higher follower counts than Tigrayan accounts and are therefore able to reach a larger audience with fewer tweets (see figure 9 above).
Government supporters also shared information from state-affiliated media outlets as part of their campaigns. Information spread by government supporters was also sometimes traded up the chain and circulated by government officials and state-owned media. The Ethiopian state plays a major role in the media landscape in the country, directly owning at least a third of all broadcast media.76 Moreover, some media outlets that appear privately owned are actually funded by parastatals managed by regional governments, according to a report by the European Institute of Peace.77
Efforts to undermine critical reporting were also employed. Following Amnesty’s Axum report, for example, the state-affiliated Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) interviewed an investigative journalist who claimed that one of Amnesty’s witnesses was named Michael Berhe, and that he had not been in Axum at all – claiming that he was really a man based in Boston pretending to be a priest.78 That same day, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Archdiocese of New York confirmed to FANABC—Ethiopian state TV—that Berhe was not a priest, but a man working as an interpreter in Boston.79 Researchers with Amnesty say they never spoke to Berhe, and that he was not one of the witnesses in the report.80 Nevertheless, the “fake priest” misidentification, which began on state media made its way to Twitter,81 resulting in government supporters incorporating the hashtags #ShameOnAmnesty and #AmnestyUsedTPLFsources in their click-to-tweet campaign (see figure 10 below for an example).82
A blog post citing the “fake priest” narrative was even shared in a (now deleted) tweet by the official Ministry of Foreign Affairs account.83 Leaked government documents from early March show that Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry was instructed to explore options to have him arrested and tried for crimes against the Ethiopian state.84
Figure 10: Example of the “fake priest” narrative circulating in pro-government networks. Source: https://twitter.com/eliasamare/status/1365846893025058816
In reality, Berhe does work as an interpreter in Boston but he never spoke with Amnesty, nor has he ever claimed to be a priest. He became the subject of this controversy by agreeing to take part in a clearly labelled re-enactment video directed by the SWT Campaign, where volunteers read dramatized scripts based on testimony from Tigrayan victims of violence reported in the media, according to interviews with the SWT campaign organizers.85 Somehow, possibly because the video was released immediately before the Amnesty report and because it discussed the Axum massacre, the two were linked in government supporter circles.
There is also evidence that false personas were used to spread pro-government messaging. For example, one particular impersonator account known as “George Bolton UN,” who described himself as a “Political analyst, humanitarian, diplomacy, former United Nations,” gained significant traction in pro-government circles (figure 11 below). Bolton’s tweets in support of the Ethiopian government were picked up by a former ESAT journalist before making their way to multiple Ethiopian state-affiliated media outlets.86 The account is now suspended.
Figure 11: Screenshot from the now-deleted twitter account @GboltonUK. Source: https://web.archive.org/web/20210309194951/https://twitter.com/gboltonun.
The extent to which Tigrayan or pro-government campaigns influenced international discourse is unclear. Both click-to-tweet campaigns tagged US and other international policymakers and media in their tweets, but the majority did not engage.
International media outlets such as Al Jazeera87 and France 2488 invited campaign operators and participants from both campaigns to participate in live discussions alongside journalists. Journalists and researchers were accused of partisanship, and both campaigns sought to incorporate research and reporting favourable to their narratives into their campaigns.
From February onward however, reporting from reputable news sources and human rights organizations lent support to claims that atrocity crimes were being committed in Tigray.
Pro-government campaigns sought out bloggers, journalists, and academics sympathetic to their narrative to combat the effects of these reports. In March, Zeleke said GLEAN was working on assembling an op-ed and writer’s team that would include academics and veteran activists. “We are working on research and development to focus on the past 27 years of TPLF crimes,” he said.89
It is unclear whether political adoption occurred directly from these campaigns. Some minor political actors globally have adopted the language of genocide to describe the conflict, though it is unclear whether this language came from the pro-Tigray social media campaigns that have urged the use of that term.90
The Ethiopian government believes that political adoption of the Tigrayan activist campaign has taken place, however. When asked what evidence the government is using to assess the existence, prevalence, and effects of TPLF disinformation online, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson, Billene Seyoum, said by email that “thousands of Twitter accounts claimed ‘genocide’ as early as November 11, 2020, when Rule of Law operations began on November 4, 2020.” Understanding this Twitter activity as “activism,” she added, “rather than an organised disinformation campaign is problematic, as the community being influenced have taken on that [genocide] narrative without evidence to that effect.”91
Genocide is a legal determination that has not been formally made in relation to this conflict. News reports and U.S. diplomatic sources suggest that ethnic cleansing has taken place in parts of Tigray, however.92 Other groups in Ethiopia also use the claim of genocide to draw attention to violence against their communities.93
In late March, the Ethiopian government confirmed reports that Eritrean troops were involved in the conflict and were committing atrocity crimes—allegations that had been circulating since December 2020.94 Several high-profile Eritrean Twitter accounts joined the pro-Ethiopian government Twitter campaigns at this time (see figure 12 below).95 For example, #ScapegoattingEritrea became a prominent hashtag in the aftermath of human rights reports or media reports detailing Eritrean troops committing atrocities against civilians.96
Figure 12: This chart shows the overlap between the most influential accounts in the Eritrean networks and GLEAN, as of March 7, 2021. Green nodes are Eritrean accounts, while blue and pink nodes are operated by Ethiopians.
Several of the individuals behind these accounts have links to Eritrea’s ruling party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), and the young wing in the diaspora.97 Some accounts in the Eritrean networks list shabait.com as their website in their Twitter bios, which is the website of the Eritrean Ministry of Information, and have had their work shared by the Eritrean Minister of Information.98 Zeleke said that the interactions with Eritrean social media campaigns are largely informal. “There are some issues where we have common interests and others that are not common, but there is cooperation and communication,” he said.
Critical press and reports from civil society groups were the most effective attempts at mitigating the impacts of the government’s media campaign. From February, media and rights groups reported that massacres, conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV), and significant amounts of destruction had taken place in Tigray, and that civilians were facing extreme levels of suffering.99 International pressure on the Ethiopian government to allow for unfettered humanitarian access and independent investigations increased during this period, particularly after the Axum massacre.100
On February 24, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that journalists from seven international media outlets would be permitted to access the region.101 However, after granting access, several journalists, fixers, and translators working with foreign media were arrested before being released without charge.102 Several foreign journalists were subsequently expelled from the country.103 After the TDF recaptured Mekelle at the end of June, 15 journalists were arrested, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.104 Arrests, attacks, and harassment of journalists has been a consistent feature of the conflict—a significant turn of events for a government that was initially celebrated for its commitment to press freedom.105 In August, at the time of writing, another internet and communications blackout persisted across Tigray.106
The competing campaigns attempted to use mitigation efforts against each other, employing tactics such as calling on their participants to engage in community mitigation, mass reporting (flagging) accounts, accusing the opposing campaign of disinformation, as well as appearing to cut off access to sites when possible.
Allegations of TPLF disinformation became a central feature of the Ethiopian government’s official communications at this stage. In late February, prior to the release of Amnesty International’s report on the Axum massacre, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement that warned of “overt and covert misinformation campaigns” by the “criminal clique”107 TPLF, which it claimed was using its “well-financed networks abroad” to use digital and other forms of media to portray exaggerated or misleading accounts of the conflict. A day later, Stand With Tigray’s web traffic dropped to zero within Ethiopia, suggesting that the site had been blocked in Ethiopia.108 Omna Tigray’s site was also inaccessible in Ethiopia on March 22, and access disruptions began several days earlier, on March 19, according to site stats shared by Omna Tigray members. Both organizations have encouraged participants within Ethiopia to use VPNs to access their sites and campaigns, according to operators from both Stand With Tigray and Omna Tigray.109
Tigrayan activist networks reported spending more time pushing back against efforts by government supporters to undermine their activism and critical reporting of atrocities being committed in Tigray. “I would say that for every breaking news story that came out about atrocities in Tigray there was some counter-story that we had to spend time to debunk” said one activist, who wished to remain unnamed.110
“It’s exhausting,” said a woman who organizes campaigns with Omna Tigray. “I lost my cousin in a massacre in my hometown by Eritrean soldiers, and when I was talking about that online, government supporters were telling me that the massacre was fake. There is some kind of emotional struggle—you know you’ve lost someone, but people are telling you ‘it’s just fake news.’”111
The rapid growth in Twitter activity generated by both campaigns led to accusations that participation was artificially inflated by the use of automated accounts. In December, voices critical of the TPLF and those targeted by “click-to-tweet” campaigns began to call for investigations into automated “bots” and other forms of inauthentic behaviour (see figure 13 below for an example).112
Figure 13: Tweet by Neamin Zeleke alleging the use of bots by pro-TPLF organizers to mislead the public. Source: https://twitter.com/NeaminZeleke/status/1343424717185822720
Investigations found no evidence of the use of automation in either campaign.113 Twitter defines mass copy-and-paste campaigns (which it calls “copypasta”) as a form of platform manipulation and sometimes limits visibility of these tweets or suspends accounts that participate too frequently.114
In the spring of 2021, the authenticity of older accounts with larger followings involved in the campaigns was also called into question. Participants created accounts claiming to be diplomats, UN officials, or foreign affairs experts. These accounts reportedly used images generated by artificial intelligence to impersonate experts, such as the “George Bolton” figure referenced above. members of different races and communities.115 Examples of these accounts can be found in both campaigns, but they had a greater role and impact in pro-government networks, according to our analysis. Some account operators changed their allegedly AI generated photos when confronted on Twitter,116 but others maintained the persona.117
Around December 2020, campaign operators and participants began mass reporting the other side’s accounts on Twitter. Conversations in a telegram group hosted by government-supporting activists show that members encouraged each other to go through the follower lists of groups like SWT and OmnaTigray to find people to report.118 Accounts in Tigrayan networks were also subject to phishing and hacking threats and attempts, some of which were successful, according to Tigrayan activists and discussions observed on Twitter and in a pro-government telegram group.119
We also observed members of the Tigrayan networks encouraging followers to report government supporting accounts to Twitter.120 Tigrayan activists confirmed that they engaged in mass reporting of adversarial users, with some of the effort organised on Twitter itself. Mass reporting did disrupt government campaign networks—several key “nodes” were taken down for weeks, which reduced the reach of their campaigns, but supporters engaged with Twitter Support to reinstate them.
Based on discussions observed on the platform, interview testimony, as well as videos released by Stand With Tigray, it appears Twitter began to take a more active approach to suspending accounts engaging in copy-and-paste campaigns or tweeting too frequently in February and March.121 We reached out to Twitter to ask whether its strategy or tactics for moderating content around Ethiopia had changed since the start of the conflict. A Twitter spokesperson did not answer the question directly, but said that the company is “continuously working to address inauthentic and harmful behaviour” everywhere through its policies.122
Content moderation appears to have occured on other social media platforms too: the Ethiopian government was linked to inauthentic accounts on Facebook, which were removed on June 12. Facebook stated it had removed a “network of accounts, pages, and groups in Ethiopia for coordinated inauthentic behaviour,” which it linked to INSA.123 The network was primarily sharing information in Amharic, and focused on “current events” in Ethiopia, but Facebook assessed that this activity “was not directly focused on the Tigray region or the ongoing conflict in Tigray” but sought to promote Abiy’s Prosperity Party more broadly.124
Once a significant volume of evidence made crimes committed by Ethiopian and allied forces harder to deny, the government committed to conducting its own investigations while continuing to promote its narrative about TPLF disinformation.125 At the same time, government supporters sought out and shared content that supported their beliefs that reports of atrocities and impending humanitarian crises were overblown or fabricated. These included op-eds, self-published blogs, and reports of opaque origins.
When Tigrayan campaigners spread unconfirmed information about events on the ground, pro-government campaigners pointed to these instances as proof that Tigrayan activists were intentionally spreading disinformation. Relatively early on, many Tigrayan campaigners operators adjusted their strategy to avoid spreading false information.
“We quickly learned that sharing [unconfirmed information] was a mistake and that false information would be used to undermine our movement so we tried to not share anything unless it was reported by trustworthy sources, like international media,”126 said a Tigrayan campaign operator in Toronto.
This adaptation was also clear in conversation among campaign participants on Twitter. “First we need to make sure this video is verified and studied. No fake informations. We need a proof this is in Tigray because we don’t want to spread false informations. Maybe your account get hacked, no clue but we need a proof first. Please stop sharing unverified video,” wrote one Tigrayan activist on February 28.127
Stand With Tigray operators made similar changes to their communications strategies: “In the beginning we were sharing things like ‘oh, this place got bombed.’ We always wanted to rely on reliable sources but sometimes it wasn’t possible. So we changed our strategy, we said we’re not just going to tweet anything or tweet something that isn’t verified,” Gidey said. “We decided to focus mostly on advocacy messages.”128
However, some Tigrayan accounts with large followings still sometimes spread false, unverified, or misleading information on Twitter. Since the ceasefire was declared in June and communications were shut down again, a higher volume of unverified and possibly false reports have made their way into Tigrayan activist campaigns.129 Communications blackouts coincide with higher volumes of unverified information circulating online, according to our analysis, and could make it easier for conflict actors to co-opt activist groups to seed false narratives.
In June 2021, government supporters increased efforts to produce research to support their cause. Zekele said that GLEAN’s strategy had shifted away from Twitter campaigns, toward more professional means of influencing international politics. They have also worked to form a research group to produce information to influence US policymakers, and hired lobbyists, according to Zeleke and public records.
“Our capabilities increased, so we said, Twitter is one important element in our arsenal, but we also have to expand,” said Zeleke. GLEAN is now working alongside the Ethiopian American Public Affairs Committee, which he called “the first of its kind” in terms of Ethiopian civic organizations in the US. “They will be able to lobby elected officials at the state level, and can engage in campaign financing,” he said. “The strategy now is primarily to leverage the lobby and PR firms, and to keep on mobilizing Ethiopian Americans.”
The Ethiopian government and its supporters have alleged that Tigrayans have hired lobbyists with money they stole from their years in power.130 Many political interest groups involved in this conflict have retained lobbyists but by dollar amount, the Ethiopian government has spent the most on lobbying (about $375,000).131 Tigrayan groups have spent about $40,000 so far on lobbying during this conflict, according to public records from the US, the focus of most of the concern about lobbying.132 The amount Tigrayan groups spend could increase if contracts that are due to expire soon are renewed. The Ethiopian government registered its lobbyists in February, followed by the Ethiopian Ministry of Peace, who hired one of America’s top lobbying firms in March.133 The Tigray Center for Information and Communication retained lobbyists in March and again in June, and the lobby firm activated a Twitter account for their work on Tigray.134 The Ethiopian American Civic Council135 and the American Ethiopian Public Affairs Committee have active lobbying contracts.136 Both the EACC and AEPAC work closely with GLEAN, according to Zeleke.
Pro-government campaigns have also sought to blame some atrocity crimes reportedly committed by Ethiopian and allied Eritrean forces on the Tigrayan population as well as the TPLF, as seen in figure 14 below:
Figure 14: A government supporter blames infrastructure destruction on TDF. Source: https://twitter.com/EthThinker/status/1344266558688944129?s=20
From February 2021 onward, reports detailing horrific instances of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) against women in Tigray emerged, some of which bore hallmarks of ethnic cleansing.137 Government officials responded by releasing statements that sometimes read as contradictory—on the one hand, the Prime Minister seemed to suggest that reports were likely exaggerated as part of TPLF propaganda,138 but, on the other hand, they said rapes were being committed by escaped prisoners or by Tigrayan men.139
Government supporters also instrumentalized research,140 as well as feminist activism pre-dating the conflict to push the narrative that Tigrayans were responsible for CRSV. Feminist activism by Tigrayan women pre-conflict helped to shed light on gender-based violencein Ethiopia. The government’s supporters pointed to this work to suggest that Tigray was uniquely problematic when it came to “rape culture,” even though there is no evidence that sexual violence was worse in Tigray than in any other region in Ethiopia prior to the conflict.141
Figure 15: Tigrayan feminist activist organization Yikono responds to pro-government claims that rape was ubiquitous in Tigray. Source: https://twitter.com/Yikono_/status/1373730712256442369?s=20
In response to human rights reports and their amplification by pro-Tigrayan activists, government supporters redeployed claims that the reports were biased, had been manipulated by TPLF disinformation (see figures 16 and 17 below for examples),142 or that journalists and academics were being paid to peddle TPLF disinformation.143 Government supporters, for example, frequently accused media outlets of being “infiltrated” by TPLF sources, as they had earlier on following the release of Amnesty International’s Axum report. No evidence has emerged proving this to be the case. However, tweets making these assertions can be found under almost all Twitter posts citing critical coverage of the war.144
Figure 16: An example of a GLEAN hashtag campaign that focuses on TPLF disinformation. Source: https://twitter.com/GleanEthiopia/status/1370828678763003904?s=20
Figure 17: A participant in pro-government campaigns accuses Stand With Tigray and Omna Tigray of being the “TPLF social media propaganda wing” based on their early involvement in conflict discourse. Source: https://twitter.com/EthThinker/status/1374120553888505859?s=20
Moreover, outright denials that the Axum massacre occurred were also deployed. In March 2021, major nodes in pro-government advocacy networks circulated a false news story claiming that USAID had “debunked” the Amnesty International report, and that no massacre had occurred.145 Shortly after, USAID Ethiopia tweeted that they “neither conducted an investigation nor sent a team to investigate the reported events that took place in Axum.”146 At the end of March, however, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission concluded that “more than a hundred” civilians were killed by Eritrean soldiers in Axum. In spite of growing consensus that the massacre did in fact take place government supporters continued to promote the narrative that the report was fake, designed to distract the international community from their alleged crimes against the Amhara population in Mai Kadra, Amnesty had in fact also reported on the Mai Kadra massacre in early November, citing witnesses who blamed the TPLF massacres against Amhara civilians. In July, a detailed investigation by Reuters showed that a series of massacres were perpetrated by Tigrayan and Amhara militias in mid-November.147 Government supporters alleged that Amnesty’s reporting on Axum was based on interviews with Mai Kadra perpetrators. Amnesty denied these claims, and released additional information detailing how they corroborated testimony from remote interviews.
At the time of writing, the Tigray Defense Forces had regained control of the Tigrayan capital, Mekelle. On June 28, the government of Ethiopia withdrew its forces, and declared a unilateral ceasefire. The TPLF says they military defeated the Ethiopian forces and its allies, a claim the Ethiopian government denies.148 Communications remain blocked throughout the region, humanitarian access is constrained, and violence continues and is spilling over into other regions.149
This case study sought to disentangle the myriad actors, strategies, and tactics that made up two broad campaigns seeking to shape international policy around an active military conflict. Recent developments reinforce phenomena that have characterized the information landscape around this conflict from the start: First, when access to information is poor, more unverified and potentially false information tends to be circulated among participants in Tigrayan campaigns, even as organizers try to mitigate the risk this poses to their campaigns. Improving access to information may lessen the volume of mis- and disinformation online, according to our analysis. However, increased access to information does not appear to shift the pro-government narrative, which continues to dismiss all inconvenient information by calling it disinformation.
Second, Ethiopia’s political history and the actions of the TPLF in the past has made it easy for many observers to believe the government’s claim that the TPLF and disinformation is responsible for the predicament Ethiopia finds itself in today. While concern around disinformation and misinformation is warranted in this conflict, these fears appear to slide easily into the kind of all-or-nothing thinking that allows any inconvenient information to be dismissed as fake. It could also justify the repression of genuine activism, and may feed into the conflation of Tigrayan civilians with the TPLF.
Finally, despite the beliefs and aims of both campaigns, it is unclear whether these campaigns have had any real influence on global policymakers. It is also not clear whether the comparatively large volume of Tigrayan Twitter campaigns vis-a-vis government supporters is a sign of political strength, or of political weakness. Some research suggests that online activism is a tool used most often by groups that do not have platforms associated with state control, or as many resources to pursue more professional forms of influence (i.e. PR or lobbying).150 While observers highlight the historic control the TPLF exercised over the information space in Ethiopia, this occurred at a time when the TPLF exercised significant control over state media, finances, and security institutions. A question for future research might be “what happens to a political entity’s ability to manipulate media when they no longer have access to state resources?”
The primary aim of this study was to disentangle a very complex mix of individuals, organizations, and networks pursuing an array of goals. It also sought to understand the motivations, strategies, and tactics of competing campaigns, and trace their evolution over time. We found that these networks spread many different types of information — ranging from information that was demonstrably false, to unverified (or unverifiable), to recycling claims from conventional media outlets, to sloganeerings that does not make fact-claims at all. We found no evidence of automatic inauthentic activity (ie. “bots”), on either side of the conflict, and “click-to-tweet” advocacy campaigns continue to constitute the bulk of English-language Twitter content.
Informed deliberation and debate around information are important in conflict contexts, and can be signs of a “healthy” information environment.151 The stakes of bad information may be higher in conflict contexts,152 where political actors are incentivized to sway discourse in their favour, and false information may fuel reprisal violence.153 But in a context where access to facts has been significantly constrained by the government, and where “truth” is often measured by political convenience, demands for uncritical loyalty to particular narratives are skyrocketing. The ability or willingness to engage with information on shared terms appears to be falling further away. If there is no basis for a shared understanding of what transpired during this conflict, efforts to repair the damage and continue the country’s political transition could be irreparably damaged.
We began this study at the onset of the conflict in November 2020, in response to a dramatic increase in Twitter activity about the conflict, and the proliferation of opposing narratives about what was occuring in the region. This prompted the question of whether the parties to the war in Tigray engaged in deliberate attempts to spread disinformation about the conflict, or were engaging in forms of platform manipulation. Consistent with common definitions in information studies, we understand “disinformation” as “the deliberate creation and sharing of information known to be false,” usually in pursuit of political objectives.154
We set up a long-term data collection process to trace the evolution of the information space over time, focused on Twitter. We focused on hashtags associated with several major advocacy groups that emerged as dominant in their respective communities between November 2020 and July 2021. These included campaigns that were started by the advocacy groups Stand With Tigray and Omna Tigray, as well as government supporters who converged under the banner of the Global Ethiopia Advocacy Network (GLEAN), among others. We also conducted a series of in-depth interviews with key operators of Stand With Tigray and GLEAN, and with participants in OmnaTigray.
We gathered and analysed Twitter data in three ways. We used custom Python code that interacted with the Search and Streaming APIs for targeted data collection of content and account metadata,155 and for macro trend assessments of hashtags and trending narratives and words. We also used the social media marketing tools Meltwater and AKTEK Media for bulk data collection, which allowed us to identify and follow key user accounts, trends, narratives, and events involved in the campaign. Finally, we used the network analysis tool Gephi to explore community interconnection and evolution over time. In total, we collected over 2 million tweets over the course of our observation period.
We also sought to verify the validity of claims being made on “viral” posts on Twitter, coding these claims as “demonstrably false,” “unverified,” “unverifiable,” or “corroborated,” as well as posts that were not making fact-claims at all, but were rather spreading activist or advocacy messages and slogans. Then we analysed the prevalence, reach, and spread of key pieces of false or unconfirmed information and compared them to the prevalence, reach, and spread of more conventional forms of activism.
Throughout the data collection and analysis process, we carried out interviews to contextualize what we were finding, and to better understand the actors and developments we observed online. The interviews were carried out with operators of several campaigns, as well as with people identified as holding critical positions within campaigns and activist networks, as well as casual and regular campaign participants. In total we conducted 27 interviews with people involved in online campaigns as well as subject matter experts, researchers, and journalists.
Finally, we used a range of sources for historical context and to verify some key events. This included academic literature and news articles, and watching or reviewing records of meetings hosted by organizations and campaign participants. Some of this material was from “open” sources while some was collected and shared confidentially. We also interviewed subject-matter experts and researchers to contextualize the political debates playing out in online discourse, and to understand the degree to which online discourse does (and does not) reflect Ethiopia’s political climate. For a more detailed background to the current conflict, please see Appendix II.
Despite our broad approach to data collection and analysis, this study has several limitations. We were not able to definitively shed light on the overall prevalence of misinformation or hate speech around the Ethiopia conflict, as such conclusions would have required analyzing larger amounts of information in Amharic and other languages, across numerous other social media platforms. We hope that others take on these topics in future studies, as there is a dearth of research that examines the role of digital platforms and information manipulation in conflicts in the Global South, particularly in non-English-speaking contexts.
Our findings should also not be interpreted as a clear reflection of offline politics in Ethiopia, nor are they necessarily broadly representative of Ethiopians’ political views—despite the major uptick in Twitter use since this conflict began, participants in online campaigns still reflect a particular kind of user. The most active participants in online discourse tend to have access to forms of capital associated with language, class, and digital literacy that may be unavailable to most Ethiopians, particularly those located outside of urban centres. It is important to consider whose voices continue to be left out of political discourse, on and offline.
The attack on November 4, 2020 came after two years of escalating tensions between the Ethiopian government in Addis Ababa and the regional government in Tigray.156 Some of these tensions are specific to Tigray and the role of its ruling party, the TPLF, but many resemble broader debates about the country’s ongoing political transition.
The TPLF was the most powerful party within the EPRDF that controlled Ethiopia’s federal government from 1991-2019. The EPRDF was a governing coalition made up of four major political parties organized on ethno-linguistic, regional lines.157 This coalition emerged in the aftermath of an armed victory over the Derg military regime in 1991, and reflected the identities of the armed groups that fought against the regime. The 1994/1995 constitution grants regions the “unconditional right to self-determination, including the right to secession.”158
Politically, 2018 marked a turning point for Ethiopian politics. Ethiopian youth organized sustained protests against EPRDF/TPLF authoritarianism and corruption,159 using online platforms to organize and supplement their offline activism.160 The protests led to the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in March of that year,161 and Abiy Ahmed was appointed as interim leader of the EPRDF coalition in March 2018.162 Abiy was a chairman of the Oromo Democratic Party (OPD) and a long-time member of the EPRDF.163 Shortly after taking office, Abiy continued and extended the political reform process that had begun under Hailemariam Desalegn. He publicly apologized for abuses committed during the EPRDF years,164 and terminated the tenure of many TPLF members from powerful positions in the federal government.165 He relaxed the country’s repressive security apparatus, opened up the media and political space, invited exiled dissidents back to the country, and made peace with Eritrea166—an accomplishment that would win him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.167 In December 2019 he dissolved the coalition to form his Prosperity Party.168 The TPLF was the only member of the former coalition that refused to join.169 Politically isolated from the new federal government, TPLF officials retreated to Mekelle.
While Abiy’s reforms were celebrated in Ethiopia and abroad,170 the TPLF leadership (and many Tigrayans) expressed that their party was being side-lined171 and scapegoated for all of Ethiopia’s complex political problems.172 These include state-sponsored documentaries detailing abuses by the former government’s security forces, in which individuals responsible for torture are described repeatedly as “Tigrinya speakers.”173 Abiy and his supporters have also used the term “daytime hyenas,” which Tigrayans understand as an ethnic slur against them.174 Government supporters say that concerns about hate speech are overblown, however, and that the TPLF has promoted a “siege” narrative to ensure that Tigrayans continue to support them out of fear. While a full analysis of hate speech is beyond the scope of our study, it is important to note that government and pro-government media has at times positioned Tigrayans as collectively responsible for the EPRDF’s repression. Rhetoric that blurs the lines between Tigrayans and the TPLF pre-dates the conflict.175
Recent examples include Abiy describing the TPLF as “seamlessly integrated in the people” of Tigray while also referring to the TPLF as “weeds” and “cancer,” and government supporters arguing that humanitarian aid to Tigray should be withheld because they believe aid will be used to smuggle weapons and fuel the war effort.176
Tensions between Addis Ababa and Mekelle escalated further in September 2020, when Tigray’s regional government held regional elections in spite of a federal postponement due to COVID-19.177 The TPLF reportedly won those elections,178 and the federal government subsequently cut federal funding to the region.179 In the days leading up to the TPLF’s attack, there were reports that the federal government was moving troops from other regions towards Tigray.180 Eritrea’s leader had also been relatively open about its desire to deliver a decisive blow to the TPLF in the aftermath of the peace deal with Abiy.181
Abiy’s government designated the TPLF as a terrorist group in May.182 Research and press suggests the TPLF still retains significant popular support in the region.183 Atrocities reportedly committed by government allied forces against Tigrayans have reportedly driven recruitment for the TDF.184
At the time of writing, August 2021, the humanitarian toll of the conflict is believed to be enormous. Precise figures are vigorously contested, but thousands have been killed from November 2020 to August 2021, and 1.3 million people have been forced to flee their homes.185 An estimated nine hundred thousand people face famine conditions according to the UN.186 Well-documented massacres have taken place in Mai Kadra,187 Axum,188 Mahbere Dego,189 Humera190 in Eritrean refugee camps,191 and more recently in Afar and Amhara regions.192 Throughout the conflict Tigrayan civilians have experienced significant amounts of violence, but members of other identity groups are being killed, and there are some signs that the TDF may be perpetrating reprisal violence in some contested areas.193
The extent of the violence since November remains unclear. Investigations into atrocity crimes have started, and are being conducted by various Ethiopian government bodies, including the Attorney General’s office and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC).194 Joint international and regional investigations are also underway.195 Many Tigrayans told us they want fully independent investigations. Communal violence has also increased against civilians in Ethiopia’s other regions,196 and at the time of writing, the Tigray conflict had spilled over into Afar197 and Amhara198 regions. It is clear that the ceasefire has not held. Prime Minister Abiy issued a statement in August calling on “all capable Ethiopians who are of age to join the Defence Forces, special forces, and militia to show [their] patriotism.”199 The TDF publicly committed to retaking contested territory from the border with Amhara, but they have recently expanded into Afar and may have committed atrocities against civilian populations there.200 The conflict appears set to continue for some time, and civilians across Ethiopia are likely to experience more violence and humanitarian crises.
August 24, 2021: Updated to reflect that while leaders of GLEAN display more political ties, participants of pro-government campaigns also fall along a continuum of political involvement and affiliation.
Claire Wilmot, Ellen Tveteraas, and Alexi Drew, “Dueling Information Campaigns: The War Over the Narrative in Tigray,” The Media Manipulation Case Book, August 24, 2021, https://mediamanipulation.org/case-studies/dueling-information-campaigns-war-over-narrative-tigray.
1. Official State #Visit to the Republic of #Turkey This was held on Wednesday August 18th 2021 in a warm reception by the TurkishGovernment The official state visit to Turkey occurred as both […]News
According to Russian embassy in addis Ababa report’s that On August 19 on the initiative of the Ethiopian side a telephone conversation was held between the Special Representative of the Russian President for […]News
According to Russian embassy in addis Ababa report’s that On August 19 on the initiative of the Ethiopian side a telephone conversation was held between the Special Representative of the Russian President for the Middle East and Africa, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation H. E. Mr. M. Bogdanov and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia H. E. Mr. Demeke Mekonnen.
In the course of the conversation they exchanged views on the situation around Ethiopia’s construction of the GERD in the context of raising this issue in the UN Security Council.
☝️ At the same time the Russian side expressed hope for the eventual finding of mutually acceptable solutions to this problem in the negotiations between the countries directly concerned – Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan – under the auspices of the African Union.
Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu Analysts say Ethiopia’s relationship with Turkey has a number of implications, including the crisis in the Horn of Africa and the situation in […]News
Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu
Analysts say Ethiopia’s relationship with Turkey has a number of implications, including the crisis in the Horn of Africa and the situation in the Horn of Africa. Ethiopian Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu met in Turkey for what he called a “successful mission”.
According to Turkish news agency Anadolu, the two leaders discussed the 125th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Ethiopia and Sudan. Analysts say Ethiopia’s plans to strengthen ties with Turkey are “strategic”. They also believe that Turkey, which is strengthening its economic and military ties in Africa, can create a balance of power in the ever-changing Horn of Africa politics. According to Gonul Tol, director of the Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC, Turkey is working to expand its influence abroad. This is especially true of the policy she has pursued since 2015. Turkey and Ethiopia According to the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia and Turkey have historical and cultural ties. Although this relationship was severed during the Derg regime, Turkey and Ethiopia have good relations with both the EPRDF leadership and the current administration. For a long time, their relationship was largely focused on the economy. For example, Turkey’s investment in Ethiopia is $ 2.5 billion, according to Turkish Ambassador to Ethiopia Yaprak Alp.
According to official reports, Turkey, which invests heavily in the textile sector, is the second largest investor in Ethiopia after China. Turkish companies in Ethiopia have 20,000 Ethiopian employees. According to a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, the number is among the leading private employers in the country. What is the impact of Sudan’s instability on Ethiopia? How can the US election change the politics of the Renaissance Dam? “The consequences of the war will be saved for the region” Awel Alo (Dr.) Speaking at the inauguration of the new Ethiopian Embassy in Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu; He lauded Ethiopia’s efforts to fight terrorism and pledged his country’s cooperation in this regard. Although relations between the two countries have for centuries been largely dependent on the economic sector, Ethiopian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Dina Mufti said there is a desire to expand Ethiopia’s relations with Turkey in a multi-faceted manner, including security.
Turkey’s relations with Egypt and Sudan Analysts say the strengthening of Ethiopian-Turkish relations is not a sign of strained relations between Egypt and Turkey. Negotiations on the Renaissance Dam, which has not been completed for years, have strained Egyptian-Ethiopian relations. “Egypt and Turkey have conflicting views on key Eastern Mediterranean gas resources, or Libya, and more recently Sudan,” said Horn of Africa analyst Abdurahman Seid. “Turkey’s relations with Sudan are changing with the new Sudanese administration,” he said. During the rule of former Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Turkey leased the island of Suwakim from Sudan.
“This island in the Red Sea is a key and strategic location in the region.” “Relations between Sudan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates appear to be strengthening. The two countries are strongly opposed to Turkey. “As a result, Turkey has lost its influence in Sudan because of Egypt and to some extent because of the United Arab Emirates,” Abdurahman said. In contrast, Awel Alo, a senior law professor at Kill University in the United Kingdom, says “Turkey can still have a significant impact on Sudan.” Why now? Currently, Ethiopia is trying to control the crisis in the northern part of Tigray due to the conflict between the federal government and the regional administration. It has also been embroiled in a border dispute with Sudan. Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Dina Mufti said Sudan has seized large swathes of territory along the border, using the gap created by Ethiopia’s military campaign in the Tigray region. He also accused Sudan of being a “third party” pushing for control of the disputed territory.
“The conflict between the Sudanese government and the military is in the interest of the Sudanese people and the interests of third parties,” the Ethiopian foreign ministry said in a statement. Eritrea, on the other hand, has accused Eritrea of siding with Ethiopia in the border dispute, but Eritrea has denied the allegations. Many Western countries have expressed concern that the conflict in Tigray could escalate into a regional crisis. Analysts say that Sudan plays a key role in this. Ethiopia has attracted the attention of various international bodies due to the various challenges it faces. Analysts say Ethiopia needs strong partners at this time. According to Awel, Ethiopia’s relations with Turkey are “related to the current problems facing the country”. They also say that this decision is strategic. “Turkey and Egypt do not have good relations. Ethiopia wants to take this opportunity to put pressure on Sudan,” he said. Ambassador Dina Mufti told Turkish news agency Anadolu that Ethiopia would accept if Turkey played a role in mediating the border dispute between Sudan and Ethiopia. Will Ethiopian-Turkish relations look military? It is unclear what kind of relationship Ethiopia and Turkey may have in the near future.
Dr. Awel believes that the current relationship between the two countries seems to be “mutually beneficial”. He said that this may be related to what kind of pressure Turkey is exerting on Sudan, but he is skeptical. Abdurahman, for his part, said the support could be military in light of the crisis in Tigray and tensions with Sudan. “Turkey is not far from Ethiopia at the moment. It also has a military base in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.” “Turkey has become a strong country, especially in the production of drones,” he said, citing the recent use of Turkish drones in the recent conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia as an example of how the war has changed the outcome of the war. “In this regard, there may be Ethiopian interest,” he said.
Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen meets Minister of Foreign Affairs of Algeria Ramtane Lamamra H.E. Demeke Mekonnen, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Ethiopia, received at his office on […]News
H.E. Demeke Mekonnen, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Ethiopia, received at his office on Wednesday (July 29) H.E. Ramtane Lamamra, Minister of Foreign Affairs and National community Abroad of the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria.
At the onset of their meeting, the Deputy Prime Minister appreciated the historical relationships between the two countries and congratulated Algeria for conducting a successful election.
He also stated Ethiopia’s readiness to host the 5th Joint Ministerial Commission (JMC), which was postponed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr. Demeke has also delivered a briefing on the current developments in the Tigray region and underscored the Ethiopian Government’s commitment to the humanitarian ceasefire.
Speaking on the GERD, Mr. Demeke said Ethiopia conducted the second filling according to the Declaration of Principles (DoP), which was signed by the tripartite in 2015.
The Deputy Prime Minister also expressed Ethiopia’s firm commitment to resume the trilateral negotiations over the Renaissance Dam under the auspices of the African Union.
Mr. Demeke asked the Algerian Foreign Minister to play a constructive role in correcting the Arab League’s misperceptions on the GERD underscoring Ethiopia’s intentions to fair and equitable utilization of the Nile water.
The discussion between the two sides also emphasized the need to expand engagements in trade, investment, and tourism between the two countries.
In this regard, the Deputy Prime Minister expressed his hope that Ethiopian Airlines would start a direct flight from Addis Ababa to Algiers and noted Ethiopia’s interest to welcome investors from Algeria.
Mr. Ramtane Lamamra will also visit Sudan and Mr. Demeke asked him to persuade Sudan to solve its border issue with Ethiopia peacefully according to existing joint mechanisms and refrain from using force since it would never settle the matter amicably.
Ethiopia and Algeria established diplomatic relations in the late 1960s.
An outgrowth of the 2020 International Conference on the Nile and Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the Nile Talk Forums bring together experts in Nile and other transboundary river issues of the world to […]News
An outgrowth of the 2020 International Conference on the Nile and Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the Nile Talk Forums bring together experts in Nile and other transboundary river issues of the world to discuss experiences in diffusing tensions, sharing the common good, building trust and developing collaboration and cooperation.
The Nile Talk Forums are a monthly event, happening virtually over Zoom and open to interested academics and the public. Each forum includes one expert speaker touching on a specific relevant topic and a moderated, open-floor question and answer session at the end.
Please see below for past and upcoming Nile Talk Forums. You can register to each forum below or view the webinar recordings of past forums.
Nile Talk Forum 11: Eastern Nile System Under Three Different Water Apportionment Alternatives: Colonial Era, the Washington DC and Equitable Share
Date: August 10, 2021 @ 8AM EST
Speaker: Mr. Yared Bacha Gari | Bahir Dar Institute of Technology (BiT), Bahir Dar UniversityRegister for Forum 11
Nile Talk Forum 10: Shedding Light from Space on Dam Operations: Introducing Nile Basin Reservoir Advisory System (NiBRAS)
Date: July 20, 2021 @ 8AM EST
Speaker: Dr. Hisham Eldardiry | Postdoctoral Research Associate, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Watch Forum 10 recording
Nile Talk Forum 9: Hydroegoism and Misinformation in the way of Nile/GERD Negotiation: Transcending the traditional approaches to a long-term progressive cooperation
Date: June 30, 2021 @ 8AM EST
Speaker: Dr. Semu Moges | Consultant and Associate Research Professor, University of ConnecticutView Forum 9 presentation
Watch Forum 9 recording
Nile Talk Forum 8: GERD Reservoir Impacts on the Year 2020 Flood
Date: June 8, 2021 @ 8AM EST
Speaker: Dr. Alem Gebriel | Water Resources Technical Director, WSP USAWatch Forum 8 recording
Nile Talk Forum 7: Understanding the potential impact of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on floods in Sudan
Date: May 17, 2021 @ 8AM EST
Speaker: Mohammed Basheer | University of Manchester
View Forum 7 presentation
Watch Forum 7 recording
Nile Talk Forum 6: New Insights on the Water Storage in the Nile River Basin Using GRACE/GRACE-FO, Data-Driven and Modeling
Date: April 29, 2021 @ 8AM EST
Speaker: Dr. Emad Hasan | Research Fellow, Center for Space Research, UT Austin
Watch Forum 6 recording
Nile Talk Forum 5: Panel
Date: March 15, 2021 @ 8AM EST
Mohammed Basheer | Potential Opportunities and Risks of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam to Sudan
Mekdelawit Messay Deribe | Towards Long Term Equitable and Sustainable Use of the Nile River
Hisham Eldardiry | Future Operation of High Aswan Dam: Challenges and Opportunities
Watch Forum 5 recording
Nile Talk Forum 4: Downstream Upstream Relationship and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) Filling and Operation Agreement Flexibility
Date: January 28, 2021 @ 8AM EST
Speaker: Dr. Wossenu Abtew | Principal Engineer, Water and Environment Consulting
View Forum 4 presentation
Watch Forum 4 recording
Dr Eng Seleshi Bekele, announced today the GERD reservoir reached overtopping water level. Currently, the incoming flow passes through both bottom outlets and overtopping. This year also we are experiencing extreme rainfall in […]News
Dr Eng Seleshi Bekele, announced today the GERD reservoir reached overtopping water level. Currently, the incoming flow passes through both bottom outlets and overtopping. This year also we are experiencing extreme rainfall in the Abbay Basin(Blue Nile Basin). As a result, the GERD reservoir has filled rapidly. The next milestone for GERD construction is to enable the early generation to take place in the next few months.
On 24 January 2014, Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light (HWPL) offered local representatives including political and religious leaders to sign a peace agreement for the 40-year conflict in Mindanao.Currently, the civilian […]News
On 24 January 2014, Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light (HWPL) offered local representatives including political and religious leaders to sign a peace agreement for the 40-year conflict in Mindanao.Currently, the civilian group-led peace agreement is at the implementation and has contributed to creating an atmosphere of peace for a peace agreement between the government of the Philippines and the Moro people.
HWPL held various events and activities in the Philippines since June 2013, including bringing relief for the slums, holding conversations with religious leaders for interfaith harmony, and establishing a youth network for peace.
HWPL hosted the first peace walk festival on 24 January 2014 in Mindanao, General Santos, Philippines. Over 1,000 people, including believers from both religions, students from the Mindanao State University, and members of the International Peace Youth Group, participated.
On the same day, representatives including Esmael G. Mangudadatu, Governor of Maguindanao and Catholic archibishop, signed an agreement for the creation of peace and the cessation of war.According to HWPL, the Mindanao peace agreement proposed a “civilian-centered awareness improvement and action”-based approach to peace.
In line with this approach, the organization is cooperating with local groupsto carry out peace initiatives centered around civil society, including education, religion, youth, and women, in order to eliminate the factors that are sources of conflict and also to strengthen the core values for peaceful development.
At his age of 84 when he held hands with the leaders who signed the agreement, Chairman Man Hee Lee of HWPL recalls, “While the signing of the agreement for peace was shown to the participants, the moderator explained the peace agreement, which was photographed and videotaped. The crowd erupted in cheers and applause of joy and delight.”
(HWPL Chairman Lee Man-hee (center), H.E. Fernado Robles Capalla, D.D, Archbishop Emeritus of Archdiocese of Davao (left), and Esmael G. Mangudadatu, Governor of Maguindanao (right), sign the civilian peace agreement on 24 January 2014.)
Philippine soldiers take part in the Peace Walk held after the 2nd Annual Commemoration of the Declaration of World Peace in Maguindanao, Philippines on 25 May2015.
via Ayele Addis Ambelu Ayeleradio@gmail.com
Press Statement On resuming the trilateral AU-led negotiations on #GERD The trilateral negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan have been underway to reach an outcome on […]News
Press Statement On resuming the trilateral AU-led negotiations on #GERD
The trilateral negotiations on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan have been underway to reach an outcome on the first filling and annual operation of the GERD, as per the Declaration of Principles.
It is regrettable, however, to witness that the progress of the negotiations has been dragged and politicized. Ethiopia has made its position clear time and again that this is unproductive and bringing the subject matter to the United Nations Security Council was and is unhelpful and far from the mandate of the Council.
It is recognized that the AU-led process is an important vehicle to address each party’s concerns and they have been able to reach understanding on a considerable number of issues through this setting. Furthermore, the process has also revealed the longstanding challenges which have to do with the absence of water treaty and basin-wide mechanism on the Nile.
Ethiopia is committed to bringing the AU-led trilateral process to a successful conclusion aiming to reach a mutually acceptable outcome. It is prepared and ready to work on the phased approach proposed by the Chairperson of the African Union, and, therefore, encourages both Egypt and Sudan to negotiate in good faith to bring the process to fruition.