21 March 2013

Kenya: Social Media Becomes Kenya's New Battleground

Photo: Capital FM
Government will not block social sites despite increased hate speech.


In Kenya the defeated candidate in the presidential elections, Raila Odinga, is challenging the victory by his rival Uhuru Kenyatta in court. Supporters of the two camps have taken their fight to social media platforms.

Kenya's National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) was set up after the disputed 2007 elections in a move to ease the ethnic tensions which had exploded earlier, resulting in the deaths of some 1,300 people. By comparison the elections held on March 4, 2013 were relatively peaceful with no major outbreaks of violence. The result, however, is again being disputed with defeated presidential candidate Raila Odinga launching a legal challenge against the victor Uhuru Kenyatta who won by an extremely slim margin. In a press release published on March 20, 2013, the NCIC noted that post-election discussions in Kenya's social media "have intensified along ethnic lines."

DW has been talking to Collins Nabiswa, Social Media Editor with the Daily Nation newspaper in Nairobi.

DW: Mr Nabiswa, do you agree with the assessment by Kenya's National Cohesion and Integration Commission that "we are not out of the woods yet?"

Collins Nabiswa: Yes, I concur with the NCIC regarding hate speech on social media. We get so many hate speech posts on our platforms, on Facebook and on our website. This shows the way the Kenyan people are. They're just taking the violence off the street and on to social media and I reaxlly can say it's a time bomb because social media users are attacking each other but it's not happening physically.

Maybe this will happen at some point if the NCIC doesn't step in and curb the spread of hate mail.

Can you give us some quotes to illustrate what people are actually saying?

I have one comment here from our Daily Nation Facebook page, where some person said "I will hunt down and kill all Kikuyus, they are thieves." I mean that is outright hate.

Now Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta, the election loser and victor respectively, have been confronting one another in public. Is this influencing what people are saying online?

Their supporters took up from them and again started attacking each other. Kenyatta's people are saying that Odinga is a perennial - quote - "crybaby." And then Odinga's people say Kenyatta is just perpetuating the status quo, he's not supposed to be using state resources like aircraft and security personnel. They follow what their leaders are saying, then they come up with crazy posts on social media, attacking each other.

Does what's happening online reflect what's also happening on the street?

It's totally different. The streets are cool. The whole country is cool, there's no tension at all. The tension is vented through social media but physically everything is normal. I can say there's a facade of calm.

What criteria do you apply when filtering out online hate speech at the Daily Nation?

We have in-house blog rules, especially on our website. You can't use a tribal word on our website, you can't start insulting anyone, any politician or any other person on our website. You can't just come there and post a ridiculous claim that "so and so stole the elections." Those things are not allowed at all.

Have you had to filter out much hate speech?

Yes, right now I can say we have a queue of about 4,000 pending comments. I can tell you that out of those 4,000 more than half of them are hate speech. They're not going to see the light of day, we are going to delete them. That shows you to what extent people are going online to post hate speech messages. More than half of the comments that come through on our platforms are just pure hate.

Collins Nabiswa is the Social Media Editor with the Daily Nation newspaper in Nairobi.

Interview: Asumpta Lattus

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