CIO East Africa (Nairobi)

4 July 2014

Kenya: Ethnicity Still Main Driver for Online Hate Speech in Kenya

Ethnicity is still viewed as the main driver of hate speech in Kenya on social media, with the other being religion.

Nanjira Samburi, research manager, Umati Project - a project born in 2012 out of concern that mobile and digital technologies may have played a catalyzing role in Kenyan 2007/08 post-election violence - said this while speaking at the 5th Kenya Internet Governence Forum (IGF) held at Strathmore University .

Umati Project seeks to better understand the use of dangerous speech in the Kenyan online space. The project monitors particular blogs, forums, online newspapers, Facebook and Twitter. Online content monitored includes tweets, status updates and comments, posts, and blog entries.

Nanjira said that hate speech in Kenya came as a result of Post Election Violence and was focused on NCA act and NCIS. " As we see with time, interactions are growing online and all groups are represented, thus also hate speech tends to also become a trend.We at Umati monitor social media in two ways: one who the speaker is and his influence and also the medium."

In a study released by Umati recently, dangerous speech captured was predominantly based on ethnicity and religious affiliation, and much online hate speech comes in reaction to events that transpire or are witnessed offline. Online hate speech disseminators largely identify themselves with a real or fake name and use languages widely understood in Kenya (English, Swahili, and Sheng).

The study also indicated that over 90% of all online inflammatory speech captured by Umati was on Facebook, making it the highest source of such content. Though Twitter is increasingly widely used in Kenya, hate speech in the Kenyan twittersphere has been subjected to "KoT (Kenyans on Twitter) cuffing, where tweets considered unacceptable by the status quo are openly shunned, and the author of the tweets, publicly ridiculed.

However, Nanjira notes that as much as there is hate speech, there is countering of that speech, where people use other counter measures to call for action through humor and satire. This is expressed though hashtags on twitter or even when people take on organisations to tell them what they have done is not okay.

"Kenyans have learnt that they have freedom of expression. Freedom that they didn't have a chance to express before and now with the online space, they get intuitive," said Nanjira.

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