Disinformation a threat to democracy, development

Fake news

Disinformation has the potential to undermine institutions.

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • Disinformation can compromise public policy development.
  • The public and private sectors must collaborate to fight disinformation.

Disinformation, the deliberate spread of false or misleading information, poses an existential threat to democracy and economic development in Kenya.

Its challenges penetrate the fabric of society, shape narratives, influence public opinion and sow seeds of doubt.

It can also influence national and public interests by compromising public policy development; therefore, both political leaders and public servants must remain alert to the vagaries of disinformation.

Moraa’s trust in public institutions is an indispensable proposition. But disinformation can erode this trust in electoral processes and institutions such as the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

It is not uncommon for election losers to cast aspersions on the integrity of the electoral process without tabling evidence, and these narratives further impact public confidence.

IEBC has witnessed massive human capital turnover at the commissioner level to the extent that Kenyans with the capacity and competence to run the agency give it a wide berth. Taking up the IEBC chairman role is now described as career suicide.

Fostering greater transparency

The ramifications of disinformation extend far beyond mere rhetoric; they have the potential to undermine the institutions that we have all grown to take for granted.

Through the sowing of seeds of doubt and, often, discord, disinformation campaigns have the potential to chip away at the foundations of trust, decreasing voter turnout and eventually manipulating electoral outcomes.

In an institution as fragile as democracy, which is heavily reliant on the informed participation of citizens, such tactics strike at the heart of democratic ideals.

The very process that’s designed to safeguard our collective future finds itself in the crosshairs. 

It is imperative that both the public and private sectors collaborate to fight disinformation. Public and private sector leaders must craft strategies to immunise Kenya from the pernicious effects of such campaigns.

Only through fostering greater transparency, promoting the much-needed media literacy and enhancing digital resilience can Kenya fortify its defences against such powerful efforts to undermine democracy and socioeconomic development.

Around the world, from the corridors of the White House to the streets of Kiev, disinformation casts a heavy shadow, threatening the very fabric of democracy.

Undermining the integrity

In the US, the world’s most powerful democracy, disinformation is reported to have shaped the outcome of the 2016 elections.

More recently, artificial intelligence (AI) has emerged as a potent weapon in the arsenal of those seeking to manipulate electoral outcomes.

During the New Hampshire primary, over 20,000 potential voters received AI-generated robocalls urging Democrats not to cast their ballots, showing how disinformation in the Digital Age continues to surprise us.

US authorities continue to accuse Russia of orchestrating disinformation campaigns aimed at undermining the integrity of the upcoming American elections, further underscoring the global nature of this threat.

In Ukraine, a nation grappling with external aggression and internal strife, disinformation continues to be weaponised to undermine the country’s ability to defend itself.

In confronting this threat, which is only anticipated to grow larger, Kenya must remain vigilant and resolute in defending the principles of democracy with the help of solutions uniquely posited to address this challenge that we face. 

By fostering a culture of critical thinking, promoting media literacy and embracing technological innovation, Kenya can build a more resilient society capable of withstanding the onslaught of falsehoods undermining democratic institutions the world over.

Mr Mokua is a political risk analyst