Clips depicting hate speech, political disinformation and threats of ethnic violence are spreading on TikTok ahead of Kenya’s top-level elections, according to a new report on Wednesday, accusing the video platform of “failing its first real test in Africa”.
East Africa’s economic powerhouse will hold presidential and parliamentary elections on August 9, in the shadow of previous elections that have often been marred by ethnic violence.
On Wednesday, the US-based global nonprofit Mozilla Foundation said it analyzed 130 videos that attempted to spread misinformation and incite fear and garnered over four million views after they were shared by dozens of accounts.
“Kenya’s democracy carries a tainted past of post-election violence. Now, political disinformation on TikTok — in violation of the platform’s own policies — is stirring up this highly volatile political landscape,” said Odanga Madung, a fellow at the foundation.
According to the nonprofit, many of the videos contained explicit threats of ethnic violence against communities in the Rift Valley region.
In one case, a video that garnered more than 400,000 views claimed that a particular presidential candidate hated a particular community and would target it if he came to power.
The deluge of misinformation included fake television news programs, manipulated newspaper pages, and fake opinion polls.
“The content targets specific communities with threats and uses past violence as a means of fear,” the report said, adding that similar narratives were circulated in 2007, when a disputed election result sparked tribal violence that killed more than 1,100 people cost life.
– “Remove voting misinformation” –
According to the report, TikTok had removed several videos and banned many accounts after the report was verified.
A TikTok spokesperson told AFP that the company plans to roll out new features to connect users “with authoritative information about the Kenyan election.”
“We prohibit and remove false voting information, incitement to violence, and other violations of our policies.”
TikTok, owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance, has experienced explosive growth during the pandemic but has done little to curb fake news, the report said.
Moderators were often asked to investigate content they knew little about despite being unfamiliar with the context and language used, a former TikTok employee told the researchers behind the report.
Kenya’s elections have previously been dogged by claims of fake news.
A covert disclosure by British media revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a British consultancy, used the personal data of millions of Facebook users to target political ads and spread misinformation during the 2013 and 2017 presidential campaigns.
“Rather than learn from the mistakes of more established platforms like Facebook and Twitter, TikTok is following in their footsteps, hosting and spreading political disinformation ahead of a sensitive election in Africa,” the report said.
“TikTok’s shortcomings in terms of platform moderation only add fuel to the fire.”
Experts recently told AFP that the war in Ukraine has made TikTok the number one source of misinformation thanks to its gargantuan user base and minimal content filtering.
AFP is a partner of TikTok and provides fact checking services in Asia Pacific, Europe, Middle East, Latin America and Africa.
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