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In Kenya, an electoral campaign undermined by online disinformation

#KOT, for “Kenyans On Twitter”. Building on their reputation for being able to make information viral in just a few hours, Kenyans quickly popularized their own hashtag on the blue bird network. Politicians have understood this well, in a country where 75% of the population is under 35, social media offer golden communication platforms. With the approach of the presidential election on August 9, the campaign is therefore omnipresent there.

Two candidates largely dominate the race: William Ruto, the current vice-president, and Raila Odinga, veteran of the opposition now supported by the head of state, Uhuru Kenyatta, who cannot stand for re-election, having already served two terms.

Truncated or mistranslated videos

On social networks, photos of walkabouts or extracts from speeches from each side are multiplying, but among this constant flow of publications, many false information circulate. A truncated video caused a stir, claiming that Raila Odinga was inviting his supporters to “heckle” his opponent, as he encouraged them to attend the country’s independence celebrations. The opposing camp also pays the price. A poorly translated video notably claimed, wrongly, that William Ruto’s running mate wanted ” destroy “ the telephone operator Safaricom.

Digital consultant for a big party, Mac Otani complains about it: you have to constantly deny rumours. Above all, according to him, the practice has “sophisticated” over the course of the elections. In addition to doctored videos, there is also the modification of photos, the circulation of bogus polls or doctored newspaper front pages. These fakes can go viral within hours as they are often part of sponsored campaigns. The payment, by political parties, of influencers responsible for increasing the popularity of hashtags has been denounced on several occasions.

The credibility of the vote at stake

This circulation of infox does not only affect Twitter, and above all, is also accompanied by the dissemination of hate speech. On July 28, the NGO Global Witness denounced the lack of moderation of the social network Facebook in Kenya. Global Witness explains that it asked to publish advertisements disseminating hate speech, going so far as to incite rape or the beheading of certain communities: out of 20 advertisements submitted to Facebook, 19 were accepted.

TikTok, a video-sharing app, is not spared. In June, the Mozilla Foundation released a report exposing the spread of false information and hate speech on this popular youth network. Its author, Odanga Madung, identified more than 130 affected videos.

Like TikTok, Meta, the parent company of Facebook, claims to have intensified its efforts to combat fake news and hate speech in view of the Kenyan elections, but this is far from enough, alert several civil society organizations. This kind of content persists and risks stoking tensions as post-election communal violence is recurrent in Kenya. The population remembers in particular the clashes that followed the 2007 election, during which more than 1,000 people lost their lives. The proliferation of false information also compromises the credibility of the vote in a context of pre-existing mistrust. The last elections in 2017 were canceled by the Supreme Court due to irregularities.

To fight against this misinformation and hate speech, initiatives are multiplying. Several sites of fact checking(verification of information, editor’s note) daily contradict rumors. Awareness-raising actions to help the population better understand the circulation of false information have also intensified in recent months.

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Young Kenyans are turning away from the political game

Three quarters of Kenyans are under the age of 34, according to official figures, and many of them are turning away from a political game which they consider vitiated by corruption.

On August 9, 22.1 million voters – including just under 40% young people – will be called to the polls to elect the new president, parliament and local representatives, according to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), the Electoral Commission of Kenya (IEBC).

They are 5% less, compared to 2017, to have registered on the electoral lists this year, unlike the over 35s, whose number has increased, the IEBC indicated in June.

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