Bloggers put on notice over hate speech

The secretary of the National Steering Committee on Media Monitoring Mary Ombara has said bloggers who are peddling hate speech will be identified and shamed January 2, 2012. JENNIFER MUIRURI

A media monitoring team has accused bloggers of spreading hate messages especially on major media websites and vowed a crackdown.

The team says since the messages and vitriolic exchanges that have taken an ethnic turn are communicated on popular media websites, it reaches thousands of internet users and may excite passions ahead of the General Election, two months away.

The secretary of the National Steering Committee on Media Monitoring Mary Ombara said Wednesday some of the messages posted on the blogs bordered on hate speech and called on the ‘major media houses’ to exercise some form of control to ensure vitriol did not filter into their blogs.

“We have written to media houses whose blogs have been receiving numerous hits, most of it ethnic hatred between two big tribes in the country,’ she said.

The bloggers usually react to news stories and features appearing on the said websites, but the exchanges usually degenerate into tribal diatribe.

The committee’s hands have been tied and there was little they could do to punish organisation’s whose blogs were used to spread hate, as there was no legal framework in place.

Ms Ombara urged Parliament to expedite the passage of the Communication Commission of Kenya Bill, which offers provisions for regulating cyber content.

Pursue individual bloggers

However, the committee promised to pursue individual bloggers that spread hatred, by tracking computers the hate messages were sent on, and eventually nailing the individuals involved.

“We will work with CCK to trace computers used to send the vitriolic messages that will hopefully lead to the naming and shaming of the individuals involved,” she said.

The country’s vulnerability to hate messages leading to chaos was exposed five years ago, following one of the country’s worst violence, largely blamed on tribalism in a politically charged atmosphere.

At a time when Kenyans are headed to another election, the hate messages could ignite chaos by raising the stakes in the coming polls.

Ms Obara said some of the exchanges were attracting close to 1,000 responses, an indication that majority of Kenyans were either participating in the exchanges or read the comments.

“Some of the messages posted on the blogs contained unprintable comments and could be classified as hate speech and incitement between two major communities in the country,” she noted.

The official, who was speaking during a press briefing at the Ministry of Information offices in Nairobi, said although the bloggers used pseudo names, it was possible to trace them.

At the same time, the committee said they were concerned with reports that tension was brewing in parts of western Kenya targeting communities that were not native to the regions over alleged botched political alliances.

There were alleged plots by residents of Vihiga and Kakamega to take revenge on communities from outside those areas, on perceived ‘wrongs’ meted on their candidates in the political marriages.

Although the threats had been reported to the police, the team said it was not taking the issue lightly, and called on politicians to preach peace.