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Ethiopia’s cracking down in Tigray. But activists are spreading the news.

Claire Wilmot | Published on March 30, 2021

In the early hours of Nov. 4, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed  shut down  telecommunications and deployed troops to his country’s northern  Tigray region . Shortly after, a flurry of new Twitter accounts appeared and began to tweet about the situation. By the following week, new accounts were responsible for nearly a quarter of tweets about the crisis.

On the surface, this is a familiar phenomenon. Some regimes use swarms of automated accounts — known as “bots” —  to sway political discourse . However, my analysis of nearly 90,000 recent tweets, along with interviews with Ethiopia’s diaspora, revealed a different phenomenon: There are real people behind most of these new accounts. Their tweets are trying to shape international understandings of the conflict in Tigray, filling an information vacuum created by  the Internet shutdown .

Image credit: BBC World Service (CC BY-NC 4.0).