Kenya: Tackling misinformation is critical for electoral integrity

Kenya: Tackling misinformation is critical for electoral integrity - Civic Space

Observers in Kasarani constituency during the general elections, Nairobi, Kenya, 8 August 2022. Photo: Simon Libz/Shutterstock

During Kenya’s recent elections – in both the run-up to the vote on 9 August and the aftermath – misinformation and disinformation were rife. ARTICLE 19 highlights the dangers of this scenario, and emphasises that misinformation and disinformation limit the rights of every citizen to access accurate information and weakens trust in independent institutions. Nine petitions challenging the 2022 presidential election results have been filed in the Supreme Court and will be determined by 5 September 2022. The hearing and outcome of the petitions represent a crucial time for Kenya, and, given the recent trend, misinformation and disinformation are likely to continue to spread.

On 9 August 2022, Kenyans went to the polls to decide the general elections, voting for national and county representatives, including the President. After the polls closed, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) took six days to tally, verify and declare the results of the President-elect. For the first time, the IEBC provided an open and accessible public portal from which anyone could download results from all polling stations in Kenya. This allowed citizens to scrutinise and independently tally the results alongside the commission. 

During this period, ARTICLE 19 documented misinformation being shared over social media platforms, including false claims of wild animals on the loose in certain regions on election day, rumours aimed at creating voter suppression. Other false claims included information about candidates having already won the election and claims of military deployment in the capital Nairobi, among others. People also shared untrue information that the IEBC had mistakenly added votes to the tally of one of the presidential candidates.

Unfortunately, this spread of misinformation added to that disseminated during the campaign period between May and July 2022 through videos, fake polls, and fake news sites, as well as accounts impersonating groups and individuals and using misleading language or contexts to share information over social media sites including TikTok and Twitter; platform algorithms were also abused to amplify the misinformation. 

Ahead of the election, ARTICLE 19 published a report that found misinformation and disinformation were among the most problematic types of content available in Kenya, and that enforcement of global rules regarding the problem does not consider local context. According to a survey by Reuters Institute, at least 75% of Kenyan news consumers find it hard to distinguish between real and fake news online. In response, Twitter made information from fact-checkers accessible on the platform and labelled tweets that involved tabulation of results before the IEBC declared the final tally. However, such labelling was inconsistent, meaning not all tweets with false information were highlighted. 

With this in mind, it is clear that more needs to be done to curb the spread of misinformation and disinformation. Therefore, ARTICLE 19 recommends that social media platforms take the following steps: 

  1. Immediately ensure that information about how to report accounts spreading misinformation and disinformation is available, and fast-track investigations of such reports in Kenya.
  2. Down rank incorrect information and ensure platform algorithms are not misused to amplify misinformation and disinformation. 
  3. As a long-term goal, ensure that their rules, policies, and enforcement strategies consider the diversity of cultures and contexts in which their platforms and services are available and used. 

Local coalition on content moderation 

ARTICLE 19 is currently developing the framework around a local coalition on content moderation in Kenya to address the challenges highlighted above. This follows findings from our research, Bridging the gap: Local voices in content moderation, which found that social media companies repeatedly fail to listen to local communities. They also fail to consider cultural, social, historical, economic, and political contexts when moderating users’ content.

Read Bridging the Gap

Kenya is ranked 68 out of 161 countries in the 2022 Global Expression Report – ARTICLE 19’s  annual review of the state of freedom of expression and the right to information around the world.