Political campaigns

Misinformation rears its ugly head as Kenyan election campaigns heat up

By AGGREY MUTAMBO

Kenya’s preparations for the August 9 general election are facing what is now an international problem: keeping fake news away from campaign platforms.

Misinformation, experts warn, could likely set the country back on the old path of post-election violence unless nipped in the bud. As elections to replace incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta approach, it has become even more difficult to detect fake facts as social media has taken over political campaigns.

The National Commission for Cohesion and Integration has published a list of phrases it says politicians use but which could be inciting.

Jodie Ginsberg of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says fact-checking in the Kenyan situation is difficult because owners of social media platforms don’t normally react quickly to problems in the developing world.

“Some of these companies don’t even have agents who speak the local language, so how the hell are you supposed to meet these challenges? She posed during a recent panel discussion on Fake or Fact at German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle’s (DW) Global Media Forum in Bonn.

“These companies tend to react when they see that there is political capital. They have taken steps to change things in the United States following, among other things, the January 6 assault on the Capitol, but we do not see similar action in other countries and I am concerned about what is going to happen in the next election because unless these companies take additional steps to combat misinformation and disinformation, we are going to see potentially much greater violence around elections around the world.

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Misinformation, giving false or misleading information to the public, sometimes deliberately to deceive and gain some advantage, is not new in Kenyan politics. In April, internet company Mozilla tracked down more than 30 Tiktok accounts that allegedly posted videos containing hate speech, incitement and other misleading information.

Odanga Madung, the Mozilla researcher, then said that 130 videos were in fact a violation of Tiktok’s own usage policy, which prohibits discrimination, incitement and misinformation, indicating that the social media platform was herself unable to determine what should be considered accurate. Tiktok removed some of the offensive videos after Mozilla’s report. But that hasn’t solved the lack of moderation capacity, including employing people who have local knowledge of the language and context in which the videos are posted. In Bonn, panelists argued that the discrepancy made it difficult to filter out fake news in Kenya’s elections, which could lead to problems.

“Removing the videos is not enough,” said Asha Mwilu of Debunk Media in Kenya, one of the platforms involved in the campaign against misinformation.

“There is a need to have a conversation about these issues, algorithms and moderation of content,” she added, referring to a recent New York Times article which showed that Facebook was paying moderators little in Kenya despite colossal work. content filtering.

Facebook itself was used during the 2017 election by the defunct Cambridge Analytica and Kenyan politicians to discredit their rivals in a series of pre-planned posts that appeared on the platform during campaign season. After the revelations emerged, Cambridge Analytica ceased operations and Facebook announced a campaign to sweep the platform of counterfeits. This time, Kenya’s main political coalitions admit that false information continues to spread, even as they accuse rivals of being behind it.

“It is a worrying thing, but as the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition, we tend to correct and set the record straight. Of course, lies seem sweeter than the truth,” Ndiritu Muriithi, Laikipia County Governor and Raila Odinga Presidential Campaign Council Chairman, told The EastAfrican.

“To deal with this threat, as Kenya Kwanza Alliance, we have formed a communications team that corrects and straightens out when lies are peddled against us by our adversaries,” pleaded Daniel Rono, MP for the DP camp. Ruto.

Additional reporting by Onyango K’Onyango