Kenya’s 2022 election is drawing really close and several events are shaping up that could have a significant impact on activities come August 9, 2022. With just 6-days left, social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, are being scrutinised with questions about content moderation.
Here’s a breakdown of what has been happening in the last few months.
- On July 30, 2022, Kenya’s ICT Minister announced that it had no plans to ban Facebook or shut down the Internet despite reports emerging that the platform is failing to combat hate speech that could lead to election violence.
- On July 28, 2022, Global Witness, an advocacy group and Foxglove, a legal non-profit firm, released a report stating that Facebook “appallingly failed to detect hate speech ads in the two official languages of the country: Swahili and English.” Unlike the previous pattern witnessed in Ethiopia, Facebook also fell short in moderating English content.
- On July 20, 2022, Facebook released a blog post that detailed its plans to combat false news, protect female public figures, improve digital literacy and make political advertising more transparent in Kenya’s elections. Most notably, it activated the Kenyan arm of its election operation centre to fight election interference in real-time.
- Meta (Facebook’s parent company), Twitter and Tiktok all made promises to protect the integrity of their platforms and combat the spread of fake news ahead of Kenya's 2022 election.
- In November 2021, two Mozilla fellows uncovered disinformation campaigns on Twitter that tried to shape political discourse.
- Several parties are not satisfied with the efforts of these social media companies to combat misinformation in Africa. Further research shows that Facebook and Tiktok still allow hate speech and falsehoods that violate their policies in Kenya.
Why is this relevant?
As social media platforms grow in popularity, their global influence has grown considerably, and it currently affects the democratic processes of some of the most developed to the least developed countries.
Tifa Research, a Kenyan research firm found fake poll results with its logo online, as supporters edited the poll results to favour their preferred candidates. These fake poll results were then shared on WhatsApp groups.
With such practices becoming rampant across the globe, social media platforms are being pressured to be more accountable with their platforms. Considering these companies primarily make money through advertising, this has proven tougher than most parties would expect.
In 2016, Facebook got caught in the infamous Cambridge Analytica data Scandal, where the personal data of millions of Facebook users were collected without their consent to be used for political advertising.
Though some might argue that the online space doesn’t hold much sway in Africa, Cambridge Analytica turned out to have heavily impacted not just the US elections, but even Nigeria’s elections. We’ve also seen hashtags move from Twitter to the global streets.
In a nutshell, popular discourse on social media is increasingly shaping how we interpret reality, and false news spreads much faster than a supersonic Jet can ever dream of.
However, we need to approach the current narrative while being fully conscious of the African context.
What does content moderation look like in Africa?
While there are clear and obvious cases of false news and hate speech online, the lines are not always clear in Africa. For instance, death threats, racism, and abusive comments about someone’s religion, gender, or ethnicity cannot be debated, but in Africa, we’ve seen governments shut down the Internet for questionable reasons.
- In 2021, the Kenyan government sanctioned the arrest and prosecution of activist, Mutemi wa Kiama, for publishing what they deemed “Offensive graphics”. However, Kenya has been way more respectful of digital rights than several other African countries.
- Countries like Ethiopia, Burundi, and Togo have, on occasion, shut down the Internet for very questionable reasons. Nigeria’s approach is so weird, that we had to spend some time unpacking the pains of Internet censorship.
What’s the main takeaway? Most Africans are entitled to freedom of expression on paper, but their governments clamp down on this freedom under the guise of hate speech. On the flip side, when does the freedom to express become a license to bully?
In the current politically charged climates of Kenya and Nigeria, how do we separate the lines between harsh criticisms, and hate speech?
“When taking a look at most laws on hate speech you will be hard-pressed to find a transparent measure to discern who determines what’s offensive and what elements actually constitute the crime,” said Ridwan Oloyede, lead partner at Techhive advisory, in a chat with Techpoint.
While there are laws that already define the parameters of Internet safety, implementation has been either lax or dubious depending on the country.
So far, Kenya has leaned towards letting people freely express themselves, with only a few exceptions. There are no laws that jail people for lying on the Internet, so social media platforms are expected to take up the responsibility of tackling misinformation which is not without its own problems.
In October 2020, a group of young protesters were the subject of gunfire. While the Nigerian armed forces tagged images of this sad event as fake news on Twitter, Facebook also tagged them as misinformation, and YOuTUbe took down media reports. Thankfully, the government confirmed this incident, but it showed how flawed things could get if we leave social media platforms to determine what fake news is or isn’t.
Zooming in to Kenya's 2022 election
In 2007, 1300 Kenyans lost their lives to election violence which was caused by provoking campaigns and disputed results. Ahead of Kenya’s 2022 elections, we need to have a more consistent framework that can tackle misinformation, and it’s not clear if the measures Twitter and Facebook, which are both ad-driven, will put enough stringent measures.
- Facebook- 12 million users
- Twitter - 1.35 million users
For instance, Global Witness and Foxglove submitted ten real-life examples of hate speech ads in English and Swahili to Facebook and they both got accepted. The English ads only got rejected for violating their grammar and profanity policy, but a minor tweak solved that and the ad was accepted.
Even after Facebook’s public statement which detailed its plans ahead of Kenya’s elections, the team submitted the ads again, and they were accepted.
Facebook is not alone in this as reports of hate speech are increasingly becoming prominent on other platforms like Tiktok, Instagram, and WhatsApp.
“Over 130 videos from 33 accounts which have been viewed collectively over 4 million times. Our analysis reveals that hate speech, incitement against communities, and synthetic and manipulated content — despite being in violation of TikTok’s very own policies — is both present and spreading on the platform,” says a report from the Mozilla foundation on Tiktok in Kenya.
No matter how much these companies sweet talk the media, the core of their business models relies on eyeballs, ads, and more eyeballs, and their algorithms (with all their changes) promote whatever keeps you on the platform for as long as possible.
- Social media platforms need moderation. Humans can be cruel.
- African governments cannot be trusted to regulate social media, due to their own vested interests.
- Social media platforms cannot be trusted to tackle hate speech as it conflicts with their core business model
- Having governments and social media platforms collaborate can also cause issues.
This article doesn’t provide answers, it only raises questions from what we've observed. Ahead of Kenya’s 2022 elections, we can only plead with our readers to stay safe. If you have interesting perspectives on this conversation, kindly reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.