Kenya grapples with fake news as women, politicians take the hit


Kenya grapples with fake news as women, politicians take the hit

‘Forwarded as received’ is one of the most common statements on WhatsApp messages probably intended to quash any doubts in the recipient’s mind that it could be ‘Fake News’.

According to Dr. Jane Thuo, a lecturer at the University of Nairobi, social media has made it easier for spread of fake news by use of bait headlines.

“Last year, Kenya was downgraded because of the spread of fake news,” Dr. Thuo said citing a global ranking on internet freedom.

Another trend that has slowly become popular in Kenya is use of edited photos, videos or audio to either discredit the individual or the company; get monetary or political gains; for satire/parody or direct traffic to one’s website or blog.

“It is published with the intent to mislead…often with sensationalist, exaggerated or patently false headlines that grab attention,” a recent study by the Association of Women in Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK) says.

The research also affirms that such information can be very difficult to correct and may have lasting effects even after it is discredited as it may continue to influence beliefs and attitudes even after it is debunked.

On Tuesday, AWMIK in partnership with Heinrich Böll Stiftung, a German political foundation, held a forum with panelists from local universities, Media Council of Kenya (MCK) and journalists to underscore effects of fake news in Kenya.

When asked to define fake news, Victor Bwire, Head of Media Development and Strategy at MCK, said though the term is an oxymoron it is the biggest challenge facing media houses across the world.

“Once it is fake, it cannot be news. News is verifiable information but the issue of propaganda is real, and it is nothing new,” he said.

The difference between what we call fake news and journalistic errors is the motive. In the case of fake news, someone intentionally generates false information with a business or political motive.”

According to him, people knowingly spread misinformation on Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms without verifying the source or authenticity.

A recent report from the BBC revealed that Kenyans and Nigerians ‘underestimate their ability to spot fake news’ and mostly share it because emotion trumps reason, to get validation (being the first to share news amongst friends) and even out of a false sense of civic duty.

https://twitter.com/Queerly_So/status/1128311414555328512?s=20

Bwire further noted that misinformation threatens to disrepute not only individuals and media houses but also top corporates and government institutions.

He questioned why the blame is placed squarely on the youth who are seen to be the ones mostly online yet they are not always the benefactors.

“Is it really true that it is the youth that are propagating ‘fake news’? The youth are too broke to afford bundles..Perpetuators of fake news tend to be educated people who know full well, how to use technology and the effects of fake news in framing narratives,” he added.

Following the U.S. election in 2016 where it emerged that there may have been Russian influence through the use of what the New York Times calls ‘disseminated propaganda’, some psychologists have it that people are mostly duped not knowing what is real or fake.

“One group claims that our ability to reason is hijacked by our partisan convictions: that is, we’re prone to rationalization. The other group — to which the two of us belong — claims that the problem is that we often fail to exercise our critical faculties: that is, we’re mentally lazy,” the NYT report says.

In Kenya, the use of ‘fake news’ came to the fore during the 2017 general elections.

On March 21, 2018, Jubilee party through the then Vice-chairman David Murathe, confirmed that during the election campaigns, the party paid for services from Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) — an affiliate of Cambridge Analytica.

An undercover investigation of Cambridge Analytica by Britain’s Channel 4 said executives boasted they could entrap politicians in compromising situations with bribes and Ukrainian sex workers, and spread misinformation online.

The executives claimed to have worked in more 200 elections across the world, including Argentina, the Czech Republic, India, Kenya and Nigeria.

Also Read: Cambridge Analytica shuts down after elections scandal

Fast forward to 2019 and psychologists are still grappling with why people around the world remain susceptible to fake news.

From screen shots alleged to be directives on the controversial Huduma Namba to the recently flooded classrooms of Mangororo Primary School in Kilifi County and Education CS George Magoha, social media remains awash with information that lacks credibility.

Rtd. Col. Cyrus Oguna, in his first address as Government Spokesman, warned that fake news is a major hazard to Kenyan citizens.

The AWMIK Fake News forum on Tuesday further revealed that women remain the major targets of false information.

“..most often through personal attacks meant to discourage them from politics or silence their voices in the media…social media has been the most used platform for attacks against female journalists, with the most common gendered attacks being cyber stalking, sexual harassment, impersonation with parody accounts, surveillance and unauthorised use and manipulation of personal information, including images and videos,” the AMWIK report says.

Also Read: Women still bear greatest brunt of online harassment, World Press Freedom summit told

The study titled ‘Women Journalists’ Digital Security further found that misinformation threatens to water down efforts by mainstream media in terms of public trust which ultimately deprives consumers of crucial information to make informed choices.

According to Mwanaisha Chidzuga, a television anchor at K24 and one of the panelists at the gender forum, fake news sells.

“Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp move content and we tend not to question.”

She told the forum that she has been the subject of ‘fake news’ and ‘takes the fight where it matters’. “People need to report attacks and fake narratives being perpetuated against them,” she said.

Chidzuga also criticised media houses over what she termed as ‘Good TV syndrome’ which according to her is killing women’s platforms in newsroom and politics yet is time for things to change the conversation.

Dr. Dorothy Njoroge, Assistant Professor at the United States International University (USIU) echoed similar sentiments saying the importance of accuracy is no longer there.

Also Read: BWIRE: It’s time to discuss viability and sustainability of the media

She further raised concern over the trend where women tend to be fewer content producers and hence suffer more as victims of fake news.

“Fake news is fuelled by technology. Women are not online as much as men thus mostly end up being passive in their role of sharing correct information,” she said.

The USIU lecturer further noted that creating a false reality affects the direction a country is taking and public relations has sometimes been used to engineer consent, and create an alternate universe.

Her counterpart Dr. Thuo said to fight ‘fake news’ media organisations must have fact checking tools with MCK’s Bwire adding that, “We need to utilise existing laws that are there in Kenya to deal with ‘fake news’.”

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Story By Rachel Ombaka
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