The video sharing platform, Tiktok, has become a hotspot for the dissemination of false information in Kenya close to the presidential elections slated for 9th August, 2022. According to a study by Odanga Madung, a Mozilla Foundation fellow, a review on 130 videos shared by 33 accounts portrayed the gaslighting role Tiktok was playing to exacerbate the ethnocentric biases rocking an already unstable Kenya.
The inflammatory videos were not only posted but also became trending videos with over 4 million collective views. The false, misleading and incendiary viral publications of these vloggers leaves to be questioned whether Tiktok understands the nature of the unstable political climate in Kenya as well as the general unrest it could eventually start.
Mozilla reported certain images showing a post apocalyptic Kenya, should William Ruto, an aspiring presidential candidate, win the elections.
One video clip showing Ruto at a rally had the caption, “Ruto hates Kikuyus and wants to take revenge come 2022.” The video was widely distributed on TikTok and received over 445,000 views on its platform.
Madung also identified several manipulated pieces of content on the platform that went viral: a fake Kenya Television Network (KTN) news bulletin with a fake opinion poll and dubbed narration; a video showing a fake Joe Biden tweet; and various false newspaper covers. These videos garnered over 342,000 views on the platform.
While to the uninformed, Mozilla’s research may look like the proverbial making a mountain out of a molehill, academics reveal that the alarmists tendencies of the media fanned the flames the the Post Election Violence (PEV) which led to the death of about 1,000 Kenyans and the displacement of 500,000 others.
The unstable history of Kenya’s elections have been manipulated to stir up bitter memories and consequently inflame members of the society. As with every society, the social media tends to be the hub of information with rumours being the major source of information. And false information almost always spreads faster than the truth.
Tiktok’s failure to moderate the content being distributed on its platform reveal a major loophole with this being Tiktok’s first time witnessing an African election since its entry into Africa.
Tiktok’s failure isn’t the first for Kenya:
Sadly, Tiktok isn’t the only social media platform that has failed in Kenya. Facebook happens to be a leading platform for the spread of hate/incitement followed by Twitter.
“In the last week of March, we had Facebook having 80 percent of all flagged cases while on Twitter there were 20 percent. This trend has been the same for the whole month of March,” says Samuel Kobia, Chairperson of Kenya’s National Cohesion and Integration Commission.
The role of the social media in Kenya:
Following the post election violence (PEV) of 2008, the Kenyan government shut down all local media houses and truncated the flow of information for ‘security reasons’. This eventually seeded the idea of citizen journalism where ‘ordinary’ citizens took to disseminating information where the mainstream media could not due to government regulations. The citizen media then was at its infantry but over a decade later, it has now reached maturity enough to get citizens actively involved in the politics of their country. Citizen journalism however had its fail as is prominently displayed by the creation of fake news content, the spread of inflammatory speech and synthetic videos.
Where the social media was supposed to hold a nation together, it has become a tool that is tearing the cords holding Kenya together. Ethnicity is now overemphasized and hateful messages are directed at people, tribes and political leaders.
This comes as a violation of Tiktok’s policy which states non tolerance for hateful and distorted messages on its platform.
“We will remove any content – including video, audio, livestream, images, comments, links, or other text – that violates our Community Guidelines.”
But were these videos not removed until Madung’s inquiry.
And how about the amplification of algorithms to make a video trend more than the actual real life views. All 130 videos shared in the understudied accounts showed a bloated number of views (4 million) more than the actual followers of the tiktokers. Again, this goes against the core of tiktok’s algorithm policies.
Madung noted “that there are very many cases where a certain page, for example, might have 5,000 followers, but the kind of the content that it posts ends up getting [more than] 500,000 views, because it has been supercharged by the platform itself.”
Tiktok claims its “algorithms are designed with trust and safety in mind. For some content, we may reduce discoverability, including by redirecting search results, or making videos ineligible for recommendation in the For You feed.” However, this does not always translate as a reality as Madung calls for more transparent algorithms.
Evidently, the discoverability of the videos in question were not reduced.
Does Tiktok actually moderate its contents as it claims?
Gadear Ayed, a former Tiktok moderator, told Mozilla why the incendiary videos were trending across the platform despite the moderators. She said “sometimes, the people moderating the platform don’t know who the entities in the videos are and therefore, the videos can be spread due to a lack of knowledge of the context. It’s common to find moderators being asked to moderate videos that were in languages and contexts that were different from what they understood.”
She disclosed that she had once moderated a video in Hebrew without understanding the context and only moderating the video based on its pictorial displays. Ayed also revealed that Tiktok required extreme speed from their moderators up to as high as moderating up to 1,000 videos per day.
At this speed it is difficult for any moderator to actually catch-up with the context of a post.
Unfortunately, the hijacking of the platform by political nogoods isn’t just a Kenyan problem. It happens in almost every society and Nigeria is no exception
And if Tiktok does not better its platform content and context, it may soon end as a distrusted app in the country which falls to its top three African market.
Similar Trends in Nigeria:
With over 250 tribes in Nigeria, ethnic diversity is plentiful and always finds its way into the politics of the country. During the 2019 Nigerian elections, hate speech and misinformation abounded on Twitter Nigeria, not stopping at the level of citizens alone but politicians at the top were the originators of several of these false news and manipulation of ethnic diversities.
Usually in elections, ethnocentric and religion-biased posts are made against an opposition party.
A glaring example of disinformation is the accusations levelled against Peter Obi, a running mate of Atiku Abubakar under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in 2019. Kaduna State governor, El-rufai Nasir had accused Obi of being a tribal bigot who was unfit to rule the country. The president’s Special Assistant on New media, Bashir Ahmaad, also affirmed that Obi had deported northerners living in Anambra, (Southern Nigeria) during his stint as a governor.
However, Dubawa, an independent verification and fact checking platform, analysed the claims and found it to be false. “Yes, available reports show that in 2011, Mr. Obi some persons from the state. These persons were however some ‘beggars’ who were not Anambra indigenes to their states of Akwa Ibom and Ebonyi, not Northerners,” Dubawa reported.
Another instance of the inflammatory role of the social media include the affirmation of the lynching of Deborah Samuel, a student of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto due to an argument on WhatsApp where she allegedly blasphemed against Prophet Muhammed. Several posts praising her killers for doing the ‘needful’ are still on Twitter and Facebook.
Based on a Statista report, In 2021, there were approximately 43 million social network users in Nigeria, and this figure is projected to grow to 103 million users in 2026. As a growing population turns to the social networking sites for information, political jostlers have also taken to the media to canvas for votes. The result of the coming 2023 presidential elections will be dependent on the role of social media, either for peace or for violence.