Mechachal: Online Debates and Elections in Ethiopia - From Hate Speech to Engagement in Social Media

104 Pages Posted: 1 Sep 2016

See all articles by Iginio Gagliardone

Iginio Gagliardone

University of Oxford; University of the Witwatersrand

Matti Pohjonen

University of Oxford

Zenebe Beyene

Addis Ababa University

Abdissa Zerai

Addis Ababa University

Gerawork Aynekulu

University of Belgrade, Students

Mesfin Bekalu

Harvard University - T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Jonathan Bright

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute

Mulatu Alemayehu Moges

Addis Ababa University - School of Journalism and Communication

Michael Seifu

Independent

Nicole Stremlau

University of Oxford

Patricia Taflan

University of Oxford

Tewodros Makonnen Gebrewolde

University of Leicester, Faculty of the Social Sciences, Department of Economics, Students

Zelalem Teferra

African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights

Date Written: May 1, 2016

Abstract

Anecdotal evidence suggests social media are used by individuals and groups wanting to incite hatred and violence, yet the empirical evidence we present in this report suggests the these extreme forms of speech are actually marginal. Building on a collaboration between the University of Oxford and Addis Ababa University we examined thousands of comments made by Ethiopians on Facebook during four months around the time of the country’s general election. Hate speech – defined as statements to incite others to discriminate or act against individuals or groups on grounds of their ethnicity, nationality, religion or gender – was found in just 0.7% of overall statements in the representative sample. These findings may have wide implications for the many countries trying to address growing concerns about the role played by social media in promoting radicalisation or violence. Ethiopia represented an exceptional case study because of its distinct languages, which allowed gaining a realistic sample of the overall online debates focused on one country. We analysed Facebook statements made by Ethiopians, both in their homeland and abroad, in the run-up to and just after the general election on 24 May 2015. We found that fans or followers rather than people with any real influence online are mainly responsible for the violent or aggressive speech that appeared on Facebook pages in the sample. These individuals appear to use Facebook to vent their anger against more powerful sections of society. Around 18% of total comments in the sample were written by fans or followers compared with 11% of comments made by highly influential speakers (the owners of web pages). One fifth (21.8%) of hostile comments were grounded in political differences, only slightly higher than the overall average of 21.4% of all conversations containing hostile comments. Religion and ethnicity provoked fewer hostile comments (10% and 14% of overall comments in sample respectively). The findings are based on the analysis of more than 13,000 statements posted on 1,055 Facebook pages between February and June 2015. They mapped Facebook profiles, pages, and groups that had 100 or more followers or likes or members, respectively. All content in the sample studied had to include an Ethiopian language and raise discussion topics about Ethiopia. We focused on popular spaces on Facebook, analysing such pages daily to map ongoing trends, but also included comments on some online random pages or pages capturing particular events, such as a protest or publicised speeches. Posts, status updates and comments were tracked over time.

Keywords: Hate speech, social media, politics, elections, Africa, Ethiopia, new methods, Internet

Suggested Citation

Gagliardone, Iginio and Pohjonen, Matti and Beyene, Zenebe and Zerai, Abdissa and Aynekulu, Gerawork and Bekalu, Mesfin and Bright, Jonathan and Moges, Mulatu Alemayehu and Seifu, Michael and Stremlau, Nicole and Taflan, Patricia and Gebrewolde, Tewodros Makonnen and Teferra, Zelalem, Mechachal: Online Debates and Elections in Ethiopia - From Hate Speech to Engagement in Social Media (May 1, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2831369 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2831369

Iginio Gagliardone (Contact Author)

University of Oxford ( email )

Mansfield Road
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 4AU
United Kingdom

University of the Witwatersrand ( email )

1 Jan Smuts Avenue
Johannesburg, GA Gauteng 2000
South Africa

Matti Pohjonen

University of Oxford ( email )

Mansfield Road
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 4AU
United Kingdom

Zenebe Beyene

Addis Ababa University ( email )

King George VI St
Addis Ababa, 1000
Ethiopia

Abdissa Zerai

Addis Ababa University ( email )

King George VI St
Addis Ababa, 1000
Ethiopia

Gerawork Aynekulu

University of Belgrade, Students ( email )

Studentski trg 1
Belgrade
Serbia

Mesfin Bekalu

Harvard University - T.H. Chan School of Public Health ( email )

677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA MA 02115
United States

Jonathan Bright

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute ( email )

1 St. Giles
University of Oxford
Oxford OX1 3PG Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire OX1 3JS
United Kingdom

Mulatu Alemayehu Moges

Addis Ababa University - School of Journalism and Communication ( email )

Addis Ababa
Addis Ababa, 1179

Michael Seifu

Independent ( email )

Nicole Stremlau

University of Oxford ( email )

Mansfield Road
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 4AU
United Kingdom

Patricia Taflan

University of Oxford

Mansfield Road
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 4AU
United Kingdom

Tewodros Makonnen Gebrewolde

University of Leicester, Faculty of the Social Sciences, Department of Economics, Students ( email )

Leicester
United Kingdom

Zelalem Teferra

African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights ( email )

Mwalimu Julius Neyerere Conservation Park
Arusha, Arusha
Tanzania

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