Kenyan officials defend Facebook after approving pro-genocide ads

Kenyan voters in Mombasa County, Kenya's coastal city of Mombasa, sing and wave in support of Kenya's Kwanza Alliance presidential candidate William Ruto campaigning at the National Museum in Fort Jesus, the Friday July 22, 2022.

Kenyan voters in Mombasa County, Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa, sing and wave in support of Kenya’s Kwanza Alliance presidential candidate William Ruto campaigning at the National Museum in Fort Jesus, the Friday July 22, 2022.
Photo: Gideon Maundu (PA)

Two Kenyan chiefs of staff have issued strong statements opposing an ultimatum handed over to Meta last week by the national cohesion watchdog. The Minister of the Interior and the Minister of Information, Communication, and tech separately said Kenya would not take any action against Facebook until next week’s national elections.

On Friday, the National Commission for Cohesion and Integration (CNCI) announced that it would move to have Meta suspended from its activities in Kenya unless the company takes further action within seven days to stem the flow of country-focused hate speech and misinformation Coming election.

The NCIC, founded in 2008 to mitigate inter-ethnic conflict following unprecedented post-election violence, issued the ultimatum at a Friday press conference held jointly with members of the human rights group Global Witness. The nonprofit was on hand to release independent findings showing that Facebook had repeatedly endorsed ads designed to induce users. violence among more than 40 tribes in Kenya.

Reuters reported On Monday, however, Kenyatta’s government would not move to suspend Facebook ahead of the August 9 election, citing Joe Mucheru, Kenya’s minister of information, communications and technology.

“We don’t have a plan to shut down any of these platforms,” ​​Mucheru told the news service, adding that the NCIC “should have consulted widely because they don’t have the authority to shut anyone down.” .

The NCIC said that if Facebook ignores the warning, its recommendation to suspend the service will be directed to the Kenya Communications Authority, which oversees telecommunications and e-commerce in the country.

In a Tweeter On Saturday, Home Affairs Minister Fred Matiang’i said shutting down access to the platform would undermine the free speech rights of more than 11 million Facebook users in Kenya. Matiang’i further sought to distance the Kenyatta administration from NCIC statements by claiming that the warning to Meta was issued by its commissioners in a “personal” capacity.

“[W]We salute the constitutional right of citizens to speak out on matters of national concern without fear of victimization,” he said.

Like Gizmodo reported On Friday, Global Witness and Foxglove, another UK-based non-profit, conducted several tests aimed at assessing Facebook’s ability to detect and prevent ads designed to incite ethnic violence in Kenya. . Facebook has repeatedly failed tests in the country’s two most common languages: English and Swahili.

The groups attempted to run advertisements which they called “dehumanizing, comparing specific tribal groups to animals and calling for rape, slaughter and beheading”. Facebook repeatedly approved the ads, which groups removed before users could see them.

Facebook’s human rights record has been downright critical in many countries, including Kenya, which has a history of conflict over its elections since the founding of its multi-party system in the early 1990s.

Following the 2007 general elections, unprecedented violence swept the country in all but two of its provinces. An official investigation the following year determined that in some cases the violence had been instigated by local businessmen and political leaders. While it happened spontaneously in some areas, investigators found it was planned in others.

Documents leaked by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen show that Facebook is aware of its impact in the country, although it remains largely optimistic that social media in general will play a predominantly positive role in the electoral process in Kenya. A document reviewed by Gizmodo notes that while some messages are “mixed with hate and intimidation”, others contain “messages of peace” intended to counter hate. He goes on to say that Facebook has been used to “incite violence, but also to mitigate it.”

The same document, dated around November 2018, says areas not served by local peace committees – a tool deployed to resolve tensions and manage conflict in various forms since the 1990s – are “more likely to be triggered by ethnic content”.

In a statement last week, Meta said work with “dedicated teams of Swahili speakers” to help remove harmful content “quickly and at scale”. But asked by Gizmodo how many Swahili speakers it employs to help moderate content, Meta declined to say.

“We don’t generally provide a breakdown of how many people we have reviewing content in a particular country or language because that wouldn’t show the full picture,” a spokesperson said, adding that “many content violation reports” are image-based and therefore “does not require local language expertise”.

Meta said it too employee a “team of subject matter experts working on the election”, including those with “expertise in disinformation, hate speech, elections and disinformation”. Asked specifically about the number of subject matter experts he had hired to help protect Kenya’s elections, he again declined to provide a number.

“We have specialist core teams working on complex issues – like disinformation and terrorism – huge teams of people who are focused on developing automation that proactively detects infringing content in different countries around the world . These teams would also not be reflected in the number of local language content reviewers,” they said.

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