Following a report highlighting Meta’s failure to remove hate speech from the Facebook platform, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission threatened to suspend Facebook for “contravening hate prevention guidelines.” Disinformation and hate speech around the election period is a very serious issue in Kenya, but preventing people from using major communications platforms is not a proportionate or effective way to stem it. Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition commend the government of Kenya for once again committing not to shut down the internet and social media platforms.
“Internet shutdowns are not a solution to the spread of misinformation or disinformation,” said Felicia Anthonio, #KeepItOn Campaign Manager at Access Now. “The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has underscored that blocking major communications platforms not only attacks the rights to free expression and access to information and exacerbates violence and unrest, but also contributes to the spread of disinformation and hate speech, because it instills uncertainty and doubt.”
As the Kenya general elections draw closer, there is legitimate fear over whether major online platforms can successfully combat hate speech and disinformation. Investigators and civil society are raising the alarm about content on Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok. However, these reports should prompt additional investment and work by the platforms in question to ensure election “preparedness,” not serve as a justification to deprive Kenyans of vital pathways for communication. In Meta’s case, resolving the issue should include direct communication with Kenyan civil society regarding the exploitative way in which it engages its content moderators in Africa, which conflicts with the company’s own human rights policy.
“Platforms like Meta have failed completely in their handling of misinformation, disinformation, and hate speech in Tigray and Myanmar,” said Bridget Andere, Africa Policy Analyst at Access Now. “The danger is that governments will use that as an excuse for internet shutdowns and app blocking, when it should instead spur companies toward greater investment in human content moderation, and doing so in an ethical and human rights-respecting manner.”
People in Kenya should not have to pay for Meta’s inability to address disinformation by suffering a communications blackout during an election. Access Now continues to urge authorities and stakeholders in Kenya to take appropriate steps to tackle the proliferation of hate speech and misinformation and disinformation in ways that uphold the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and access to information throughout the election period and thereafter.