Kenya’s presidential election campaign is officially over, but the relentless – and dangerous – flow of misinformation continues online, as keyboard warriors fight to discredit their rivals by sharing false claims of rigging, according to reports. experts.
Activists for frontrunners Kenyan Vice President William Ruto and veteran politician Raila Odinga are circulating dozens of messages claiming their opponent is engaged in “vote-rigging conspiracies”, said Benedict Manzin, an analyst for the Sub-Saharan Africa to the UK-based intelligence firm. Sibylline.
“We are seeing more and more fake news that seeks to delegitimize the election results with widespread claims that the opposing side would only win through fraud and that they are trying to steal the election,” Manzin said.
In one instance, a Ruto campaign strategist accused Odinga’s team of trying to rig today’s poll because the 77-year-old urged the election commission to use a voter register manual instead of a digital register.
Meanwhile, a pro-Odinga blogger tweeted that Ruto was trying to steal the election, sharing a link to an unrelated – since removed – video of a politician discussing an old scandal.
Mary Blankenship, a disinformation researcher at the University of Nevada, said the circulation of baseless fraud allegations could do real damage, especially in a country where previous polls have been followed by an eruption of violence.
“It creates an avenue for either candidate to discredit the poll result, which could lead to unrest,” Blankenship said.
She compared the situation to the 2020 US election when former US President Donald Trump’s fraud allegations culminated in an attack on the US Capitol by his supporters.
More than 1,100 people died in politically motivated inter-ethnic clashes in Kenya following the hard-fought 2007 elections.
A decade later, dozens of people died in a police crackdown on protests after the 2017 presidential election, which was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court due to “irregularities and illegalities “.
Fact-checking groups have debunked hundreds of false and misleading claims about Kenya’s elections.
Both sides have sought to denigrate their opponent’s degrees, claiming that Odinga lied about studying engineering in Germany and that Ruto falsified his college grades. These claims were debunked by fact checkers, but trended on Twitter for days.
Mainstream media organizations have also been dragged into the fray, with impostor websites and social media pages mimicking real media used to spread lies about candidates.
“We constantly have to issue warnings that this is not from our company,” said Waihiga Mwaura, editor of Citizen TV.
Fraudulent opinion polls have become a major trend, with activists wrongly attributing them to legitimate sources such as polling firm GeoPoll and the Daily Nation newspaper.
There are “efforts to make different leaders look even more popular than they are, to make it look like they are winning elections,” said Nic Cheeseman, a political scientist at the University of Birmingham.
“The major misinformation and misinformation we saw in 2022 is quite similar to the 2017 election,” Cheeseman said, referring to “negative ethnic stereotyping” among other tactics.
A secret whistleblower by UK media has revealed that UK consultancy Cambridge Analytica used the personal data of millions of Facebook users to target political adverts – some of which tackle ethnic fears – during the president’s successful campaigns Kenyan Uhuru Kenyatta in 2013 and 2017.
Kenyan civil society groups and a state watchdog have warned that the barrage of misinformation poses a risk to democracy and called on social media platforms to take action.
The authorities have also set up a special division to deal with “election-related and hate speech offences”.
“Part of what this misinformation and disinformation does is it plays on stereotypes, preconceptions and the emotional aspect of voters,” said Mark Kaigwa, team leader at StopReflectVerify.com, a Kenyan organization. analyzing misinformation. “It’s a way to energize people and bring them together emotionally.”
While platforms such as Facebook and TikTok say they are committed to stamping out misinformation and hate speech, observers are skeptical, not least because election influencers rely on code words to amplify their messages.
“There is a lot of coded language … used to mask or ensure that these social media platforms do not identify this type of hate speech,” said Allan Cheboi, principal investigator at Code for Africa, a data journalism and civic. technology initiative.
For example, some militants use the Swahili word madoadoa (“stain”) to attack members of various communities in Kenya, Cheboi said.
“The incentive starts online, then the results [in] violence in offline spaces,” he said.
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