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Kenya: Rise of online electoral campaign platforms make it hard for govt' to control misinformation & hate speech

"Rise of online campaign platforms tests Kenya’s anti-hate watchdogs"

... Former ICT permanent secretary Bitange Ndemo attributes the growing popularity of the online space as an election campaign platform in Kenya partly to the safe route it affords politicians and political parties to sidestep the electoral commission’s rules. In addition to setting the date when campaigns officially kick off and the duration for candidates to canvass for votes, the IEBC requires them to stop 48 hours to voting. “Online platforms do not quite have the restrictions of the IEBC on the campaign period. Even on voting day, a candidate can still mobilise support or reach out to voters with campaign messages on social media platforms,” said Mr Ndemo. “The Internet also allows for manipulation of messages. Someone’s speech on video, for example, can easily be flipped and used against him or her.”

Hate speech and incitement on vernacular radio was partly blamed for fuelling the post-election violence of 2007 and 2008, which pushed the country close to the brink of a civil war. A broadcaster on one of the radio stations was among the six people initially charged with crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court. As part of the effort to avoid a recurrence of massive ethnic-related violence, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) was set up 2008 to police hate and promote healing while anti-hate speech laws have been tightened. The NCIC gets busier during electioneering periods when it deploys its staff to different parts of the country to record and study speeches at campaign rallies, and monitor the media for hate speech.

But the rise of the online space as a political campaign platform presents the commission and other government agencies with even more challenges due to the difficulty in policing the fast-changing virtual jungle and their own capacity limitations. “We are in for a very difficult future. Remember that in 2007 we didn’t even have WhatsApp to deal with,” says Prof Ndemo.