When Twitter suspended President Trump, it said the following:
After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them — specifically how they are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter — we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.
Twitter didn’t suspend Trump for what he had tweeted per se. It suspended him because it deemed the tweets in question potential causes for violence. Twitter side-stepped the debate about free speech and the metaphysics of the “platform” itself (whether it’s a mere platform or a media outlet with an editorial policy) by framing its decision in consequentialist terms – he has been banned to minimize harm.
If Twitter can suspend a person on such finely calibrated moral grounds, apparently out of abundance of caution, it has a far more strong ground to suspend the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Mr. Abiy Ahmed.
Here is why.
Abiy has been using the platform to incite violence against ethnic Tigrayans by tweeting a call to arms bordering on a call to genocide. On July 18, 2021, he told his 750,000+ followers: “Let’s join hands to rid ourselves of the weed, cancer and satan”. The words weed, cancer and satan ostensibly refer to the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF), a political party that is widely supported by ethnic Tigrayans and against whom the Abiy-led regime has been at a war footing for the last eight months. Although the regime maintains the war is only against the TPLF (bad enough already, given that the TPLF had just been voted in to govern Tigray by an overwhelming majority), it’s now morphed into a war on ethnic Tigrayans. When the Ethiopian Army suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Tigray Defence Forces (TDF), Abiy appeared on TV and blamed the defeat on the Tigray people. He explained the defeat away by saying: “Our army was back-stabbed by the Tigrayan people”. That gave the police in Addis Ababa and elsewhere a licence to lash out against civilian Tigrayans. According to reports by Amnesty, Reuters, and the state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), hundreds of Tigrayan-owned businesses in Addis Ababa have since been closed down; and hundreds of civilians have been jailed. Crimes include speaking Tigrigna, playing Tigrigna music, showing support to the TPLF (for example, by having a picture of its leader on your phone) and possessing a Tigray Government-issued ID. What this practically means is that literally every person of Tigrayan descent can be accused of being a member of the TPLF, and hence a weed, a cancer or a satan.
So when Abiy uses the words “weed”, “cancer” and “satan” in his tweets, there’s absolutely no doubt as to whom they refer to among his supporters. They refer to any ethnic Tigrayans.
If Twitter was worried about Trump’s tweets being used to justify violence in a country with strong guardrails against civilians turning on one another and where there’s no specific ethnic minority that the tweets targeted, it should be horrified by Abiy’s tweets for two reasons. First, Abiy is very blunt in his tweets in a way that Trump never was, and never could have been. Abiy is clear about who the target is and about what needs to be done. The target is ethnic Tigrayans and what needs to be done is left to each person’s discretion, which means anything goes. This has all the hallmarks of a call to genocide. Second, there’s no independent body in Ethiopia who can say “this is wrong”. So, if Abiy orders an attack against Tigrayans, which has done in multiple tweets, ethnic Tigrayans have no one to appeal to.
It is for these reasons that the decision to ban Abiy from Twitter should be much easier and uncontroversial. If Twitter does not want to give a “leader” who flirts with genocide a platform, it ought to suspend Abiy Ahmed. The stakes could not be higher. Twitter has a responsibility to act.