Ethiopia’s warring sides locked in disinformation battle
Johannesburg (AFP) – Since clashes erupted between Ethiopian forces and northern rebels more than a year ago, another war has flared up online as the rivals spread false claims to control the conflict’s narrative.
Digital activists have been engaged in a fierce battle to discredit their opponents, from pro-government sites claiming to promote independent fact-checking to opponents sharing doctored content of alleged attacks.
Experts warn that these online campaigns have fed into an already explosive situation in a country with a history of ethnic polarisation.
“Inflammatory messages have worsened the situation in Ethiopia by sowing fear and confusion and further igniting tensions,” Ethiopian media and human rights law expert Yohannes Eneyew Ayalew told AFP Fact Check.did
The war in the Tigray region, which spilt into two neighbouring states in July, has killed thousands of people and sparked a severe humanitarian crisis. Fighters on all sides stand accused of committing atrocities. Although the rebels announced their retreat back to Tigray on December 20, no official peace talks have been launched yet.
Communications remain cut in the conflict zone and access for journalists is restricted, making it difficult to verify battlefield claims.
“(It’s been) difficult to know with confidence what is happening on the ground – a feature of this conflict from the beginning,” Joseph Siegle of the African Centre for Strategic Studies told AFP Fact Check.
“The prevalence of false narratives is contributing to increased scepticism toward all claims of abuse. This, in turn, is impeding a more coordinated and uniform international response to the crisis.”
AFP Fact Check has verified multiple claims since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray in November 2020 after accusing the region’s dissident ruling party of attacks on federal army camps.
They included photos being shared in a false context, fake official statements and manipulated content.