The Ethiopian and Eritrean government are applying a massive effort in social media in the latest evolution of propaganda to justify genocide by inciting hate and call to action for revenge. This builds upon the experience seen first in Nazi Germany and then in Rwanda in the nefarious art of misinformation which empowers genocide while obscuring its existence.
The development and use of specialized propaganda mechanisms to disguise genocidal intentions in media was first exploited by the Nazis in a democratically elected government in the 1940s, then copied and refined to an African style by the Rwanda government against the Tutsi in 1994, and finally now we see how Abiy Ahmed supporters have further advanced this evil practice with the use of social media to defend Tigray genocide.
Although there is always an argument raised about freedom of speech whenever this topic of hate speech comes up, solid social science research has shown that “revenge speech” which magnifies differences between the in and out group, builds up a false perception of the risk of threat in the audience, and dehumanizes the targeted group is successful in inciting increased discrimination and violence. This is why despotic authoritarian governments develop and use it.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum makes the point that the Nazi propaganda machine fostered hate for its supporters while at the same time sewed indifference to the outside world about the genocide against European Jews. Today in Ethiopia we commonly see the excuse that derogatory comments such as calling Tigrayans “cancer”, for example, are always backtracked on social media after they have had their initial shock effect. The propagandists always claim later their referral was to leaders not the people. These coded messages function to strengthen and enhance enmity buy sending a silent message to believers and would be joiners but then are “refuted” as not being generalized. They clearly show the intent of the genocidal group to hide their intentions.
The Rwanda genocide of the Tutsi by Huti lead government leaders and party leaders affliated with President Habyarimana did not happen all at once. Just as in Germany and now what we are seeing in Ethiopia a message has been developed over time. Educators in schools, newspapers, and diaspora over many years repeated the message the minority, the Jews, the Tutsi, and now the Tigray were always planning an impending violent genocide of their own against the majority. They were outsiders to the society at large and did not contribute to progress.
These propagandist actions did not occur sporadically. In fact they have a well studied nefarious art which has been studied extensively. The Rwanda leadership relied on learning methods of propaganda as analyzed by a French professor, Roger Mucchielli, in his book, Psychologie de la publicité et de la propagande. This included persuading the majority population that the opponent intends to use terror against them; once convinced this formerly “honest people” will take whatever measures they think necessary for legitimate self-defense. Genocidal actions of deprivation, violation, and killing become acceptable to those who would never have considered them previously.
The high participation of the world in social media over the past decade has offered new tools for promoting genocide while hiding its purpose. The governments of Ethiopia, Tigray, Turkey, and United Arab Emirates expend considerable resources including recruiting expertise in social media production and monitoring. Just like Hitler they know the value of propaganda.