For the past year, social media has been used as a tool in Ethiopia’s ongoing conflict between the central government and Tigray’s people’s Liberation Front (which controls the northern Tigray region) a northernmost regional state in Ethiopia.
The two warring sides have constantly taken to social media to exchange words and have heated arguments. As a result, the government wants to create local platforms that will replace WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Zoom.
The Ethiopian government has accused Facebook of blocking user accounts and posts that have “disseminating the true reality”, “preaching peace and unity” and telling the truth of what is really happening in Ethiopia. Reportedly, Facebook removed some fake accounts in Ethiopia days before the national elections. Twitter declined to comment. Zoom did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
According to the director-general of the Information Network Security Agency (INSA), Shumete Gizaw said, Ethiopia will not hire outsiders to help since they have the local expertise to develop the platforms. He also added that a trial has already been completed of a soon-to-be-operational platform to replace WhatsApp and Zoom.
He further said “the rationale behind developing technology with local capacity is clear … Why do you think China is using WeChat? WeChat is considered to be a strong tool by Chinese authorities for monitoring its population”.
Human rights groups have also criticized the Ethiopian government for unexplained shutdowns to social media services including Facebook and WhatsApp over the past year.