What you need to know:
- The use of fake accounts was observed, with some users using the names of actors and deceased journalists, while also using the profile pictures of international musicians.
- Netizens amplified tweets by retweeting, copying and posting original tweets as their own, while others posted quote tweets in support of original tweets.
David wrote in the book of Psalms that it is better to trust in the Lord than in man. In religion, however, there is a fine line between trusting God and trusting the person God uses to deliver His message. While there's a right to worship in the country, there seems to be subtle adoration as well as vicious hatred for some popular preachers in Kenya.
On social media, as in real life, these preachers have attracted both supporters and detractors who spend their time online either promoting or bashing them. An investigation by the Nation into coordinated, inauthentic behaviour by online users aimed at some of the preachers reveals deep-seated malice.
The Nation analysed the online messages of two groups, Pastor Ezekiel and Prophet Owuor, from different users and followers.
We discovered that there is a coordinated effort using multiple social media accounts to influence religious conversations. The analysis also revealed the use of fake accounts, amplification techniques, deliberate sharing of false information and impersonation.
The use of fake accounts was observed, with some users using the names of actors and deceased journalists, while also using the profile pictures of international musicians. Netizens amplified tweets by retweeting, copying and posting original tweets as their own, while others posted quote tweets in support of original tweets.
On November 27, 2022, Pastor Ezekiel Odero, founder of the New Life Church Prayer Centre in Mavueni, blew up Twitter when he single-handedly filled the 60,000-seat Moi International Sports Centre. His service, attended by Pastor Dorcas Rigathi, wife of Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, attracted people from different parts of the country, with Kenyans on X, formerly Twitter, trying to understand how he managed to attract such a huge crowd.
Pastor Ezekiel then became the number one trending topic under the hashtag #pastorezekiel, with Kenyans comparing him to Prophet David Owuor, who is known for attracting huge crowds to his major rallies.
On Facebook alone, posts about Pastor Ezekiel, who says he started his journey as a fisherman in Kisumu before becoming a fisher of men, had a total of 774,926 interactions, with 39,000 views coming from the Kenyan Celebrities Facebook page and 31,000 views from Mike Sonko's page. This fame made Pastor Ezekiel the second most followed Kenyan content creator on YouTube in 2022.
For the period between November 1 and December 30 last year, approximately 3,482 tweets with mentions of Pastor Ezekiel were identified.
Of these, only 324 tweets mentioning either Pastor Ezekiel or the hashtag #pastorezekiel were original tweets. Comparing the original tweets to the total number of tweets, we see that an original post is approximately retweeted or quoted 10 times.
Deliberately false information
In the same period, there were 1,298 tweets mentioning Pastor Ezekiel's crusade in Kasarani, which is an example of deliberate misinformation. The majority of the tweets were identified between November 28 and November 30.
There was co-ordination in the use of various techniques to spread Pastor Ezekiel's fame and castigation of how he was able to fill the stadium.
Twitter user MENYE Sangeti lesinoi-shared a video from Tiktok user @laurenliz29, which had a total of 1,550 views, one retweet and 10 likes. The tweet claimed that Pastor Ezekiel drew a crowd of more than 85,000 people to the stadium, which has a seating capacity of 60,000.
Twitter users also copy and paste each other's tweets. Jonan Czar, with the username @ItsOmaido, posted a tweet on November 28, 2022, a day after the rally, which was copied and pasted by other users.
"The true servant of God, Pastor Ezekiel. His teachings and miracles reflect God's word. Thank you for breaking the devil's altar. Nairobi Kasarani in pictures."
This tweet has been retweeted 12 times, with one quote tweet and 119 likes.
It was also preceded by a similar quote by Felix Njika .
On January 7, 2023, a Twitter user named Prof. Dr. Halimu Shauri posted a screenshot of a Whatsapp status claiming that Pastor Ezekiel had done more infrastructural development than some counties had done in a decade of devolution.
The screenshot read: "As I drove to the airport this morning on the Mavueni-Mazeras-SGR road, I saw the wonders of a man, Pastor Ezekiel, who has done infrastructure development that is probably more than most counties I know in Kenya in the 10 years of devolution... I wondered if pastors are more development conscious than governors with billions of taxpayers' money."
Another user, @kafangi, claimed that Pastor Ezekiel's church is open from Monday to Sunday and that the church requires members to pay a tithe of not less than Sh100,000. The tweet was seen by 7,392 people, with 15 retweets and 135 likes. An account called Tsuma Chris responded to the user, saying the church opens normally on Sundays.
However, his supporters vouched that he is undisputed, with some users saying the man draws crowds, so much so that some women have been known to leave home with money and directions just to meet the pastor.
"I was travelling in SGR once and there was a lady travelling with me... she didn't know where she was going and she didn't have any money. All she said was that she wanted to see Pastor Ezekiel. The guy draws crowds. I think Pastor Ezekiel is the most influential Kenyan in 2022," said a Twitter user called @edgarwabwire.
However, the evangelist's opponents express disbelief in his healing miracles, with most questioning the sale of miracle handkerchiefs and water, which the evangelist commonly uses. The same goes for his supporters, some of whom border on disinformation, with some users sharing stories that cast doubt on the authenticity of the miracles.
On January 6, for example, a user called Walker Paul Walker@Swaleh_1 posted a tweet that garnered 3,872 interactions, 13 quote tweets, 20 retweets and 86 likes.
It read: "Pastor Ezekiel Odero of New Life Prayer Centre & Church a lady came to your church for prayers, her sick child was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, you prayed for her & asked her to withdraw the doctors drugs & replace them with your "holy water" &kitamba. Today they are burying the baby.
Another tweet posted by the same user on the same day said, "At Pastor Ezekiel Odero New Life Prayer Centre & Church, everything is given for a fee, miracles from 5k _ 50k depending on your need, accommodation at 500 per night, holy food & water at 700. Miracle handkerchiefs at 250. Why pay for miracles?" This tweet had 2,307 interactions, 12 quote tweets, 16 retweets and 48 likes.
In his tweet posted on January 5, 2023, another user, BenZilla@benn_jatelo, said Ezekiel's church was full of "wamamas and children -Ezekiel is just one of the typical pastors who preys on the desperation of human desires. A lot of money is made in the name of the Lord. But my faith in God is real." The thread had 2,470 views, three retweets, five quote tweets and 15 likes.
Another user, Ronald Alex@RonaldOloo2, said: "Jesus never sold miracles, not even to his disciples. Pastor Ezekiel and other false prophets are here selling holy water and anointing oil. Anyone who charges you for prayer and ministry is wrong. This is nonsense." The tweet received three quote tweets, 11 retweets and 30 likes.
Twitter users also manipulated original tweets to drive conversations.
Copy and paste
We found that a number of users, both for and against Pastor Ezekiel, used this technique to amplify content on Twitter.
@_fels1 posted a claim that Pastor Ezekiel was only able to fill the stadium because of desperate people. After his post on the 28th of November, @nyakundimochoge and @David_Lubi among other users copied and pasted the same content where we saw retweets of the same content.
The Nation also observed a trend pattern in content sharing, where users posted Two tweets both having the same content from the original posts. This shows some level of coordination in amplification of Pastor Ezekiel’s content on Twitter.
Retweeting of copied and pasted content
2,950 retweets were identified from the 3,482 posts with the mention of Pastor Ezekiel.
In addition to the coordinated inauthentic behaviour, users launched campaigns for Pastor Ezekiel against Prophet David Owuor.
It's worth noting that although it didn't gain much traction, there are individuals who have campaigns praising Pastor Ezekiel over Prophet Awuor. In comparison, this is based on the crowds gathered by the two during their meetings.
Campaigns for Pastor Ezekiel against Prophet Awuor:
Like the coordinated behaviour of Pastor Ezekiel's followers, some networks retweeted negative sentiments.
@Dr_AustinOmondi's post with a negative sentiment was the most retweeted tweet.
Other individuals whose posts on pastor Ezekiel gained high traction include:
In an attempt to find amplifiers of the same content, networks were identified based on the above users with content centered around Pastor Ezekiel.
Social media users are also pushing content for Prophet Owuor of the Ministry of Repentance and Holiness.
Our analysis also found traces of misinformation, coordination and fake news.
There were about 516 posts about him on Facebook and a whopping 605,483 interactions throughout 2022. One of the users, in a post in July 2022, spread propaganda claiming that Kenyans should prepare for post-election violence. Rebuttals to the same post gained popularity online.
"UPDATE: God's mighty prophet David Owuor of the Ministry of Repentance and Holiness is warning Kenyans to prepare for the worst post-election violence in Kenya's history. We must prove this man wrong, Kenyans are peaceful and we will have free and fair elections,' he said in a Facebook post.
The Nation can neither confirm nor deny some of the claims made by users, especially those about healing.
A Twitter user named Marguerite @_finalstretch claimed that over 50 people living with HIV were healed during crusades held by Prophet Dr Owuor.
We noticed the same language used by several tweets aimed at proving the authenticity of the healing.
" Those who are healed by Prophet Owuor are always thoroughly tested and their blood samples are sent to SA for PCR level. Note that they are strictly instructed to continue taking ARVs until confirmation of their healing has been made clear by their doctors," read one tweet.
@Kenyan_Report: "I cursed the virus" Shock as more than 50 people become HIV negative after Prophet Owuor's mega healing in August last year.
We investigated a pattern of trending hashtags being amplified by some online users, especially those related to healing for the physically challenged.
There were about 18 similar hashtags with different names such as #Acripplehaswalked, #Phillishaswalked, #Harryhaswalked and others.
On February 13 2022, the account that first mentioned the hashtag in the tweet was @kikatajulius.
The post had a reach of 1.66k with 11 engagements.
Thereafter a number of people were noted using the same hashtags and wordings “A cripple has walked” in their tweets. This is an evidence of coordination that took place in the same regarding the wonder of a cripple walking:
We noticed that Julian Kikata post from February 12, 2022 has same wordings “A cripple has walked” as posts that trended in the third week after Prophet Owuor's crusade that happened in Bomet County from @EdithNaom & @PastorElizbe11.
The accounts in the country that are the top amplifiers include; @dr_jjoduor, @msoo37726387 and @kikatajulius, who are key sources of the hashtag #acripplehaswalked
Between 17 February and 21 February 2023, 879 tweets with the phrase "A cripple has walked" were identified.
Copying and pasting was found to be a coordinated tactic used to spread the news of a cripple walking during this period.
All of these tweets gained a lot of traction, with the smallest of the hashtags having around 1,700 retweets and the largest having 128,000 retweets. A total of 22,000 tweets with similar hashtags were identified.
Between 17 February and 21 February 2023, 879 tweets were identified using the phrase "A cripple has walked".
Copying and pasting was found to be a coordinated tactic used to spread the news of a cripple walking during this period.
South Korea is a big consumer of Prophet Owuor’s content online and it also plays a major role in its amplification.
Posts related to Prophet Awuor in South Korea were identified being spread with the hashtag #엘리야의_외침 which is translated as “#TheCryofElijah”.
This hashtag was first mentioned by a user called @ArthurPark60 who maintained the hashtag throughout the year.
This was while broadcasting the ‘'Call of Elijah' broadcasting YouTube channel of the Korean Altar of Repentance and Holiness Ministry.
Because of the Youtube Channel, a technique used in South Korea is that of embedding links alongside the hashtags.
Over the year the hashtag #엘리야의_외침 (Elijah’s cry) was mentioned 128, 000 times, with an exception of ambulance chasers, this would mean a high number of retweeting as a method of amplification even as highlighted from the network diagram.
In South Korea, unlike Kenya where unique users are mostly real people, in South Korea, mostly bots are used to amplify hashtags that have Prophet Owuor’s related content.
In the amplification of the above hashtag bots were identified posting content using the hashtag.
A network analysis shows how specific accounts also tweet Prophet Owuor related content.
The South Korean amplification network was formed around the accounts @sarahkimheaven, @hyosuk3, @wskim5907, @repent53333369, @holinessand and @oc0609.
The South Korean amplification network was formed around the accounts @sarahkimheaven, @hyosuk3, @wskim5907, @repent53333369, @holinessand and @oc0609