Online rumors may sway Kenya’s election, cause violence

By Liu Lulu Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/8 0:01:16

With its highly anticipated election kicking off Tuesday, rumors and counter-rumors are sweeping across Kenya's social media platforms. As the two frontrunners - incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga - are tied in recent polls with neither garnering enough votes for outright victory, fake news bulletins were mocked up to simulate international news outlets, including the BBC and CNN, in an attempt to sway voters. Earlier, Kenyatta was reportedly accused of ordering a raid on a tallying center, but the accusations were later dismissed by other media outlets as false. Unconfirmed and even deliberately fabricated news of this kind could become a reference for swing voters to make their final decisions.

Western media and social media outlets, for instance CNN and Facebook, soon launched counterattacks against the bogus reports and offered guidance for voters to identify fake reports. However, the fake news is still overwhelming. Ninety percent of Kenyans surveyed in July believed they had seen or heard deliberately bogus news, according to GeoPoll. Another nationally representative opinion poll suggests that one-third of Kenyans have "no trust at all" in the fairness of the country's electoral commission. Some observers believe that the misleading reports and the shaky trust in the electoral commission could set off a rerun of the bloodshed seen in 2007 where claims that the election had been rigged eventually plunged the country into violence.

These concerns are reasonable. Online rumors are a new headache for developing countries. It's worth noting that Kenya is susceptible to Western influence. While the West advocates democracy and cyber freedom, Kenya is not capable enough to put online speech under effective regulation and supervision, and as a result, rumors sprawl. Worse still, Kenya has suffered due to political turmoil, with the violence in 2007 resulting in at least 1,300 deaths. Unstable politics combined with online rumors leave Kenya in a precarious situation. Fearful of clashes erupting, thousands of people are reported to have fled major Kenyan cities.

Regulation is more important than so-called online freedom. Effective regulation of online speech is especially significant for developing countries such as Kenya that are undergoing economic takeoff. Denying fake news is not enough, and the West has the responsibility to help Kenya supervise online content. Meanwhile, developing countries should strengthen cooperation in this regard so as not to be misled by the West. They ought to shift their attention from "freedom" to supervision.

China issued regulations on Internet services in January, ordering that all businesses operating within China need to properly register with the authorities and those hosting unregistered VPN apps will face criminal penalties. These measures will help purify China's Internet and are for the better Internet development of the country. Kenya and the West can use Beijing's experiences and practices in online regulation for reference.



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