Ethiopia State Media Face Scrutiny from Facebook Fact-Checkers

[At the age of social media,] “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” – Abraham Lincoln
By Messenger Africa,

Facing the worst drought in half a century, Ethiopia had managed to avert a crisis without significant foreign aid, boasted a December 27th report on state-run news agency ENA. A day later Eshetu Homa Keno, a U.S.-based online activist, posted on Facebook a figure released by the United Nations showing that the amount of foreign humanitarian aid Ethiopia received in 2016 was more than a billion U.S. dollars while the government’s share was a relatively meager 109 million dollars.

In another post on the same day, Eshetu raised a curious case of a stadium construction project in southwestern Ethiopia. The stadium, initially reported by state media to be finished in two years, was in its eighth year of construction without completion. Earlier that year the ENA told the public that most of the project was completed. However, the image it used in its report to illustrate the progress of the construction was uncovered by Eshetu to have been snatched from a Russian website. Public ridicule followed, forcing the news agency to take the picture down.

Eshetu is among a new breed of online activists working to hold state news agencies in Ethiopia accountable – a task that has grown more important as independent media wither. He has been active on social media for more than eight years but it was only a couple of years ago that he decided to focus on what he calls “exposing the outlandish lies and exaggerated development reports” by state-owned and affiliated-media in Ethiopia.

In addition to fact-checking inflated claims, he frequently monitors reports looking for contradictions and inconsistencies. “I am not a journalist by training,” he says, “I am just doing this to fight back against government-run propaganda machinery.”

Close monitoring has raised interesting questions about seemingly bland and straightforward state news items. For instance, Eshetu pointed out last month that a new ENA report on the opening of a hospital in the town of Jigjiga contradicted reports carried earlier by other state-affiliated agencies, Walta and FanaBC, which pointed to an earlier opening date. The underlying inconsistency of these reports raises questions about why the hospital project opened behind schedule, whether there were also cost overruns, and other performance issues not addressed by the state media reports themselves.

Eshetu Homa Keno
Online activist Eshetu Homa Keno working to hold state news agencies accountable

Online activism in Ethiopia is also trying to fill a gap left by a lack of vibrant civil society. An online project, Ethio-Trial Tracker, hopes to bring light to the government’s “use and abuse of anti-terrorism proclamation,” by documenting people charged under it.

Ethiopia is ranked as one of the top five worst jailers of journalists worldwide, second in sub-Saharan Africa, with 16 journalists imprisoned currently, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. A 2015 report by human rights watchdog Freedom House claimed that the government employed a variety of strategies to weaken the independence of the press, including legal pressure, censorship of newspapers and the internet, arbitrary detention and intimidation of journalists and bloggers, and heavy taxation on the publishing process.

According to a journalism and communications lecturer at Addis Ababa University, the weakness of the independent media coupled with the government’s tight grip on information creates a fertile ground for fictitious reports to flourish.

“The government has made it difficult, if not impossible, for journalists to independently verify the various claims it makes,” said the lecturer, who wished to remain anonymous. Accordingly, “Long before the term ‘fake news’ became part of the everyday lexicon, the Ethiopian government had been actively working to induce the public into a post-truth world where the norm is fake news.”

Eshetu argues that the withering of independent media helped social media to grow impactful. Ethiopia has one of the lowest rates of internet penetration in the world. In 2016 only an estimated 4.4 per cent of its 100 million people used the internet. Regardless, Facebook and Twitter are now preferred platforms for Ethiopians as forums for expressing opinions. Eshetu says they are also important places for “disseminating information and exposing human rights violations.”


Speaking at United Nations General Assembly summit in September, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn warned world leaders about the dangers of social media. “Social media has certainly empowered populists and other extremists to exploit people’s genuine concerns and spread their message of hate and bigotry without any inhibition,” he said. A couple of weeks later he declared a state of emergency as a response to a yearlong wave of unrest and shut down certain social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Viber and WhatsUp, in various parts of the country.

The lecturer at Addis Ababa university says that the prime minister “raised a legitimate concern when he talked about the potential perils posed by social media activism especially in the context of Ethiopia.”

“Most of the activists are based abroad and some of them have a tendency to disregard the truth or to shun responsibility so long as it serves a political end they see.”

One of the early victims of the state of emergency was the Addis Standard, a monthly magazine critical of the government which was forced to stop its print edition in November. Its editor in chief, Tsedale Lemma argues that social media has become a den for extremists but also presents great opportunities for journalists to highlight unreported issues and offer alternative perspectives.

“It is easier for the Ethiopian media, with its limited capacity, to get stories breaking on social media and follow the lead for further verification when that’s possible,” she says. The editor cites the example of the anti-government protests that started in November 2015 in Ethiopia’s largest state Oromiya.

Even though this was a big story, “for the first couple of months, there was a terrifying silence among the established media,” she recalls, “while people on social media were quite vocal often calling out the media to pay attention.”

The government believes that the protests may have been orchestrated from abroad – or at least hijacked by foreign-based activists. In February charges were made against a prominent social media activist based in the U.S., Jawar Mohammed, for his alleged involvement in the protests. For Eshetu, though, “the protests were the result of a continuous abuse of power by the ruling party which left the country’s youth disillusioned and hopeless.” Yet social media gave it some energy, he says.

Four months into the state of emergency, the government has shown no sign of loosening its grip on the media or civil society. But authorities reopened access to Facebook in Addis Ababa in December – a boon for Ethiopian online activism.

With Facebook as their preferred medium, online activists like Eshetu might succeed in eventually eroding popular trust in state-run media. But also possible is that they will spur reforms that will make state outlets more professionalized and responsive. What’s clear is that state media and social media – and not independent media institutions – are the two dominant publishing sectors at the moment and they are likely to continue in uneasy coexistence for some time to come.

17 thoughts on “Ethiopia State Media Face Scrutiny from Facebook Fact-Checkers

    1. Oh well, they’re going to need an army to fact check Woyane lies. Is Facebook going to take action against Woyane affiliated pages for publishing fake news and false info????

  1. Are you talking about ALi ABU, I mean the same man who is wondering in the streets of Australia at this time? ALI ABDU or shall I say ALI ABDI, NO NEED to worry for the Eritreans do see him wondering in the streets of AUSTRALIA on daily basis. ALI ABDU IS a “homeless” in the streets of Australian. That is a fact and that is the truth.

    To ALI ABDU AND SALIH YOUNUS, we say there is more to come to see wondering in the streets. Do not forgert Eritreans are more than ready to show you how to build a nation brick by brick. No need to wait, just take a look at the Eritreans are doing.

  2. Admin: to all the new comers, welcome to the TN forum. just to let you know that making non-related and irrelevant comments shall lead to removal of your comments. abusive comments shall lead to 30-days blocking. so try to stay with in the topic and engage responsibly.

  3. I hardly remember the last time a weyane cadre and its low IQ supporters from ethnic Tigray speaks anything that resembles TRUTH let alone the truth itself. They are only fooling to themselves. Why do they have to tell it the small as big and the black as white? Is it because of their deeply embedded inferiority complex? Low self esteem? or out right stupidity? May be ALL or a combination of the two. What a pity.

    1. I am still laughing at the low IQ TPLF state media and reading their preposterous lies about the attack on GERD. Equally amazing was how some of the illiterate cadres such as sentek and the rest of the low IQ minions stormed our forum to sell the crap story back to us. They don’t even know how to make the lie more palatable any more.

      The bogus story simply defies logic. They said the rebels were traveling from Eritrea to Benishangul through Sudan. Here we are talking about a distance of more than 2,000 km. They must have using a track to reach to the dam site all the way from Eritrea? They also need to stop in one of the gas stations in Sudan for re-fueling, right? But aren’t they heavily armed with loads of explosives and ‘bunker buster’ rockets? After all they were heading to a mission thousands of kilometers away to blew up a one million pound concrete in to pieces, right? Stop it right there because it dosen’t make any sense.

      Look how the useless state media EBC reports the drama anyway:

      1. Wake up Weyane kedami, and stop lying to the Ethiopian people. You know that when Eritrea/Shaebia hits its enemy, it hits hard where it pains and beyond recovery.

      2. You remind me of a defense lawyer who is representing his nefew accused of all sorts of inhuman acts. The defense lawyer was given plenty of evidence supporting the prosecution of many but because the uncle still remembers that little innocent boy, he simply refuses to accept facts as facts and the story goes, the defense lawyer lost the case and his nefew was convicted. My point here is, regardless of what evidence we provide about shabo illness, will you ever accept it enough to speak out. Not about reporters in jail, G15 or the young man who was denied asylum in Sweden and killed for it. Non of it has to do with Ethiopia, as a matter of fact, you made a habit of going after people who leave their country as traitors and you guessed it, agame. Now, this “illiterate cadre” can point out enough criticism about my government and to their credit, ETV has also reported on mistakes in more than one occasion but non has been reported by these parasites called activists. But the question here is, can supporters of shabo has any credibility to point out wrongdoing of any kind when their own king does equivalent to what Mengistu has done? Hell no but let this be exhibit one for April hearing, stay tuned.

      3. ~
        ነቲ “ኦርጅናል” እዉጅ መበገሲ እቲ ጥቀ^ራ፣ ስለ ዝሓበርካና ግርም ድንቂ ገርካ ኣለኻ።

        EBC በየካቲት 23፣ 2009 ማለት ዕለት ሓሙስ 2 March 2017 ይኸውን ኣሎ፤ ነቲ ሓለፍቲ ዓሳክር ህወሓት ጥራይ ክለፋለፍዎ ዝኽእሉ፣ “መንግስታዊ ዜና ወተሃድር”፣ aka ጽሕጻሕ ወረ፣ – – – እን ሳልሖ aka መዓስከር ጥሩፋት aka ገዳብ (Gedab)- ውጽኣት፣ ነዚ ብሓያል “ክዕቀብ” ዝግበኦ “ምስጢር”፣ ብዕለተ ሮቡዕ March 1, 2017 ምድጕሖም፣ “ግድቦም” ተሓማሺሹ ተሳዒሩ ድዩ ክበሃል ዋላስ – – – ንጎይቶቶም ምስዳዕ ፧ ፧ ፧

      4. Eritrea is a scapegoat to Ethiopian leaders we know it tzemam hade derfu. The Ethiopian people are fed up . . Fed up of the corrupt leaders
        fed up of thieves fed up of being killed by the Woyanes . They are determined to fight you. Come clean if you are brave.. . Face your people . Pay their food from the loots i. Eritrea is not the culprit. But as usual what happens you claim Eritrea as to fool the world The world is aware now Eritrea is not.going to be the scapegoat .this time.

  4. ኤርትራዊ ኒሕ
    ኒሕ ዓጢቑ ክምክት ዘንቀደ
    ንተንኮል ጸላእቲ ሽዓ ዝፈለጠ
    ብነብስኻ ምኽኣል ዕብየት ዝመረጸ

    ንዕንቱር መከራ ጸኒዑ ዘውግሐ
    ዉሑድ ህዝቢ ዕጽፊ ዝረብሐ
    ኣብ ግብግብ ግጥም ክሳድ ዝበተኸ
    ፈንቅል ምስክር’ዩ ወለዶ ዘኹረዐ

    ከዳሚ ወራሪ ሓፍ-ሓፍ እንተበለ
    ደመኛ ጸላኢ ፍትሒ ተቐበረ
    ኤርትራዊ ኒሕ ፍጹም ነይጎደለ

    ሓሶት ተጋለበ ዓሎቕ ተሸበበ
    ተንኮል ተተኣልመ ዓመጽ ተጎተነ
    ክበንን’ዩ ጽባሕ ግዜ ምስ ኣኸለ

    ኣብ ነብሱ ኣሚኑ ህዝቢ ዝሓብሓበ
    ብዘይ ኣፈላላይ ንኹሉ ብማዕረ
    ኣይሰዓርን ኮቶ ዝኾነ እንተኾነ

    ሓቀይ’የ ናይ ልቢ ፈትሹ’ዶ ሰነድ
    ኣብዛ ሓላል ሃገር ናይ ሰማእታት መሬት
    ኩሉ ‘ሎ ኣብ ውሽጣ ዝንገር ዝትረኽ

    ራኣይዋ ኤረይ ብልቢ ኪድዋ
    ንሽርክነት ስራሕ መርሓባ በልዋ
    ንእሽቶ ምጭውቲ ዓብዪ’ዩ ሕልማ

  5. At Asmara airport, many corrupt pfdj are getting caught for trying to smuggle Bisha gold. Pfdj is ten fold more corrupt than woyane.
    oopppsss…this is unrelated topic. I guess I will be banned for 30 days…see u all on April 3

  6. 14 minority led Ethiopian regime soldiers found dead in Benishangul

    Days earlier, it is to be reminded a disgruntled regime’s soldier destroyed a radar station at Wombera district at a place called Gondi. This resentful individual has also killed one regional police member.

    It is reported, following the steps taken by the soldier, renaissance division, rapid response federal members are suspicious of each other. The police who damaged the radar have endured biting and torture before he was shot by a firing squad by direct order from higher officials. It is also known, 11 other soldiers suspected of involvement have been detained. After the destruction of the radar by the soldier, the regime has replaced all the soldiers who were guarding the radars previously. The replacement soldiers who were travelling from Pawe were attacked while on route by freedom fighters and have lost 4 of their members.

    The regime deployed soldiers to this cold and mountainous region suspecting freedom fighters are operating in this area. Last Monday 14 of the deployed soldiers were found dead. 5 of them were killed by being stabbed and 9 of them didn’t have any visible wound and the cause of their death is unknown.

    The minority led Ethiopian regime soldiers have been reporting that they were unable to bear the cold weather and the harsh terrain of the area.

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