"Based on our request, Facebook has shut down 13 fake pages in the past week alone. In recent weeks, a total of 20 fake Fana pages that were spreading fake news were shut down," Mekoya Hailemariam, head editor of Fana's online publications, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "The pages were using our official logo and mixing our authentic news items with fake ones to intentionally spread misinformation. Some of these fake pages used to have as high as 45,000 followers."
Ethiopia has one of the lowest internet penetrations in the world with about 15 percent of its citizens having access to the net, according to Internet World Stats. The number of people using Facebook in Ethiopia, is estimated to be about 4.5 million of its 100 million inhabitants.
"There are only a few independent and free media outlets in Ethiopia," said Befkadu Hailu, a prominent blogger in Ethiopia. "Hence, people are exposed to rumors, fake news and conspiracy theories. As such, they are exploited in many ways."
Ethiopia's reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who came to power in April, has relaxed the government's control of the media, freeing journalists and bloggers who were in jail and unlocking several dozen online media outlets. But Abiy has warned on several occasions that fabricated stories are jeopardizing the public's peace and security.
"Youths should refrain from taking measures based on misinformation and fake news," Abiy said in August. "This will only hamper our reform efforts and lead us to failure ultimately." The Prime Minister's Chief of Staff, Fitsum Arega, also tweeted in August urging the public to "disregard falsehoods" and stay away from "fabricated stories."
In recent months, Ethiopians were exposed to fake news reports that sometimes led to violent and deadly events. One video that circulated four months ago purported to show ethnic Oromos throwing dead bodies of ethnic Somalis into a grave. The video was blamed for instigating a violent confrontation.
In another example, fake news reports last week accused the country's running great, Haile Gebrselassie, of renting the ground floor of one of his buildings in the capital Addis Ababa to security agencies that were torturing people inside. He later dismissed it as an "utter lie."
This East African nation has cut off internet in several occasions to curb the flow of information, notably during its two recent emergency rules.