Panel formed to press social media firms on harmful content

Social media hate speech.

An illustration of fake news, misinformation and hate speech.

Photo credit: File I Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • A recent six-month investigation found more than 130 TikTok videos featuring hate and disinformation had amassed a cumulative four million views.
  • Twitter has also been fingered in multiple reports for abetting and promoting trending hashtags spreading misinformation.

A council has been set up to demand better accountability from big technology companies that operate social media sites in Kenya, following damning revelations that Al-Shabaab was using Facebook to spread hate messages and attempt to recruit and radicalise young people.

This comes as the sites are being blamed for not acting quickly enough against accounts that post election-related misinformation and hateful messages that are stoking tensions around the vote.

The council, to be unveiled today, is composed of eminent leaders from civil society organisations, data and technology, peace and security and the media.

They want the Ministry of ICT and the Communications Authority of Kenya to compel the companies to sign a self-regulatory code of practice on disinformation.

The code will contain explicit public commitments to take down illegal, malicious and hateful content and actively mitigate the risks of disinformation and make data available to independent researchers to verify that the code of practice is being enforced by the companies.

“As a priority, we are profoundly alarmed about the recent findings from the Institute of Strategic Dialogue (ISD) that Meta failed to stop the spread of hateful terrorist content in East Africa,” a statement from the council states.

Highly coordinated network

“It was revealed that known terrorist organisations have created a highly coordinated network to promote online propaganda and target Kenyans with extremist content attempting to radicalise the youth and spread harmful narratives that undermine our elections with specific calls to take up arms and reject human rights and our democracy.”

While some of the widely used sites in Kenya – Facebook, TikTok and Twitter – have said they are working to combat misinformation, especially with the upcoming General Election, experts say they are not doing enough.

A recent six-month investigation by the Mozilla Foundation found more than 130 TikTok videos featuring hate and disinformation had amassed a cumulative four million views.

Twitter has also been fingered in multiple reports for abetting and promoting trending hashtags spreading misinformation posted by influencers hired by politicians.

The council notes that these companies are especially woefully understaffed when it comes to vetting misinformation and disinformation in African languages as they prioritise content moderation in English.

“This lack of effective content moderation poses substantive harm to social media users in Kenya and Africa at large,” the council adds.

“There is therefore an urgent need to demand that social media platforms pay more attention to Africa and put adequate content moderation policies in place and invest properly in platform safety. Kenyan authorities and regulators must prevent companies from profiting from harms and be more accountable and transparent.”

Meta released a statement last week saying it had built a more advanced hate speech, voter suppression, harassment, and incitement to violence detection technology across its platforms in more than 70 different languages, including Swahili.

“In the months leading to April 30, 2022 we took action on more than 37,000 pieces of content for violating our Hate Speech policies on Facebook and Instagram in Kenya,” Ms Mercy Ndegwa, director of public policy for the East and Horn of Africa region, noted in the statement.

“During that same period, we also took action on more than 42,000 pieces of content that violated our Violence and Incitement Policies.”

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