Facebook, the social media giant owned by Meta, has been sued in Kenya for $1.6 billion for human rights violations.

The landmark legal suit has been filed in Kenya’s High Court by Amnesty International, Global Witness, Article 19, Kenya Human Rights Commission, National Commission for Integration and Cohesion NCIC), and the Law Society of Kenya (LSK).

The legal action claims that Meta promoted speech that led to ethnic violence and killings in Ethiopia. This was through the utilization of an algorithm that prioritized and recommended hateful and violent content on Facebook. The petitioners seek to stop Facebook’s algorithms from recommending such content to Facebook users and compel Meta to create a Ksh. 200 billion ($1.6 billion USD) victims’ fund.

“The spread of dangerous content on Facebook lies at the heart of Meta’s pursuit of profit, as its systems are designed to keep people engaged. This legal action is a significant step in holding Meta to account for its harmful business model,” said Flavia Mwangovya, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director of East Africa, Horn, and Great Lakes Region.

One of Amnesty’s staff members in the region was targeted as a result of posts on the social media platform.

“In Ethiopia, the people rely on social media for news and information. Because of the hate and disinformation on Facebook, human rights defenders have also become targets of threats and vitriol. I saw first-hand how the dynamics on Facebook harmed my own human rights work and hope this case will redress the imbalance,” said Fisseha Tekle, legal advisor at Amnesty International.

Fisseha Tekle is one of the petitioners bringing the case, after being subjected to a stream of hateful posts on Facebook for his work exposing human rights violations in Ethiopia. An Ethiopian national, he now lives in Kenya, fears for his life and dare not return to Ethiopia to see his family because of the vitriol directed at him on Facebook.

The legal action is also being brought by Abraham Meareg, the son of Meareg Amare, a University Professor at Bahir Dar University in northern Ethiopia, who was hunted down and killed in November 2021, weeks after posts inciting hatred and violence against him spread on Facebook. The case claims that Facebook only removed the hateful posts eight days after Professor Meareg’s killing, more than three weeks after his family had first alerted the company.

Facebook was earlier this year sued by whistleblower Daniel Motaung, through this lawyer Mercy Mutemi, for human trafficking, forced labour and human rights abuses. Daniel Motaung, in an interview, alleged deplorable working conditions and various human rights violations while working for Sama, an agent of Facebook (Meta). He was fired after speaking out.