By MFC Staff
There are multiple social media accounts, including both Facebook and Twitter, active under Prof. Merera Gudina’s name with hundreds and thousands of followers. These accounts have been used to spread misinformation and impersonate him. Furthermore, thousands of social media users post, like, and share quotes under the false belief that it’s his statement. For instance, in August 2021 the following quote (in Amharic and Oromo) was circulating widely on Facebook claiming that it was taken from Prof. Merera’s address to the 2021 annual Oromo Studies Association (OSA) meeting.
“The [Ethiopian] Prime Minister believes in assassination to solve political problems. Last time, Hacaalu was assassinated and this time around its Abuduljabar. Several Oromos are assassinated and imprisoned, but unaccounted for. Today it has become a crime in Ethiopia to travel with an ID issued by Oromia Region. Two days ago, three Oromo youth travelling to Dessie were assassinated by Amhara Special Police at a checkpoint just for carrying an ID issued by Oromia Region. There has never been a regime that hated the Oromo so much. We have a tangible reason why we seek the demise of this regime.”
MultiFactCheck (MFC) reached out to Prof. Merera to find out if he has any social media accounts, whether this controversial quote that has been recently circulating on Facebook are indeed his statements and his reflection on the issue.
Opening Facebook, Twitter, or any other form of social media account under the name of public figures has become common place in Ethiopia. One public figure in Ethiopia who became the victim of such fake social media accounts is Prof. Merera Gudina, Chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress. In an interview with MFC, Prof. Merera said that he has one personal Facebook account that he uses to follow up what is being posted and shared by friends with whom he has a connection. Other than using the platform for this particular purpose, he said, “I never wrote anything on my page or respond back. I also don’t use it to communicate with others.” Prof. Merera also told MFC that he didn’t attend the 2021 OSA annual meeting and that the above quoted statements are not his.
MFC tracked down the existence of several Facebook pages impersonating Prof. Merera Guddina with hundreds and sometimes thousands of followers. For example, an account under the name “Dr. mararaa guddinaa” (link here: https://www.facebook.com/Drmararaa-guddinaa-111102113801298) with a profile picture displaying him has 997 followers; another one with the name “Dr. marara guddina” (link here: https://www.facebook.com/Dr-marara-Guddinaa-105808887501898) has 547 followers. Again, another account with the name “Pro. Marara Gudinaa” (link here: https://www.facebook.com/ProMarara-Gudinaa-107046487506926) has 780 followers, while another page under the name “Marara Guddina” displaying his profile picture (link here: https://www.facebook.com/marara.guddinaa) has 2,009 followers as of the writing of this article.
In addition to these Facebook accounts, there are also several Twitter accounts in his name. On Twitter, there is an account under the name of “Merera G.” (link here: https://twitter.com/GudinaMerera) displaying his profile picture that has over 6000 followers. Prof. Merera said that he is aware of the existence of many accounts in his name, and that none of these accounts belonged to him.
These fake social media accounts post and share various types of content including his public comments or its misinterpreted version. Furthermore, they also post things he has never said. “People sometimes send me the contents posted to see. Sometimes it is badly written, misinterpreted. Sometimes they strongly attack the government, sometimes its pro-government. I don’t respond to both. I simply ignore them all because I cannot answer to everybody writing either against the government or praising the government in my name. I only answer when media ask me to confirm or deny it”, said Prof Merera.
According to Prof. Merera, people who open fake social media accounts in the name of public figures use it for various purposes. In his case, he has noted that these accounts have been used to defame individuals, attack, or praise the government using fake quotes, pass messages to the public, and/or just simply increase the number of page readers or followers. Prof. Merera also further noted some contents that he suspects are produced and disseminated by low-ranking cadres from the government side with bad intentions, which are apparently meant to provoke a government attack on him. In any case, Prof. Merera says, “this is totally wrong. I have my own language to address political issues including our differences with the government. I have the way to articulate that and pass on my message to the public.” For Prof. Merera, anybody has the right to use what he has publicly said and share it around. There is nothing wrong with that, he said. However, creating fake news, misinterpreting what he has said or misinforming the public on something he has never said “is not really helping anybody. There is a norm at least in the media especially that one shouldn’t misuse social media in a way to hurt people, and/or misinform the public”, said Prof. Merera.