Facebook faces suspension in Kenya over ethnic-based hate speech

Kenya’s National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), a government agency aimed at eradicating ethnic or racial discrimination among the country’s 45 tribes, has given Facebook seven days to limit hate speech related to next month’s elections on its platform fight. If social media fails to do so, they face suspension in the country. The agency’s warning comes shortly after international NGO Global Witness and legal non-profit Foxglove released a report detailing how Facebook approved ads written to incite ethnic violence in English and Swahili .

The organizations have joined forces to conduct a study testing Facebook’s ability to detect hate speech and incitement to ethnic violence ahead of Kenya’s elections. As Global Witness explained in its report, the country’s politics are polarized and ethnically determined – after the 2007 election, for example, 1,300 people were killed and hundreds of thousands were forced to flee their homes. Many more people are now using social media compared to 2007, and over 20 percent of the Kenyan population is on Facebook, where hate speech and misinformation are major problems.

The groups decided not to publish the exact ads they submitted for the test as they were highly offensive, but they did use real-life examples of hate speech common in Kenya. They include comparisons of certain tribal groups to animals and calls for the rape, slaughter and beheading of their members. “To our great surprise and concern,” reported Global Witness, “both cases are examples of hate speech [English and Swahili] were approved.” The NCIC said the NGOs’ report confirmed its own findings.

After the organizations contacted Facebook for comment on the findings, drawing attention to the study, Meta published a post detailing how they are preparing for Kenya’s elections. In it, the company said it had developed more advanced content detection technology and hired dedicated teams of Swahili speakers to help it “remove harmful content quickly and at scale.” To see if Facebook really made changes that improved its detection system, the organizations resubmitted their test ads. You have been re-approved.

In a statement sent to both Global Witness and gizmodo, Meta said it has taken “comprehensive steps” to “intercept hate speech and inflammatory content in Kenya” and the company “is stepping up those efforts ahead of the election.” However, it is also said that there will be instances where things will be overlooked “since both machines and humans make mistakes”.

Global Witness said the findings of its study follow a similar pattern it previously uncovered in Myanmar, where Facebook played a role in facilitating calls for ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims. It also follows a similar pattern unearthed by the organization in Ethiopia, where bad actors used Facebook to incite violence. The organizations and Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen are now calling on Facebook to implement the “Break the Glass” emergency package, which was seized after the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. They are also urging the social network to suspend paid digital advertising in Kenya until the end of August 9 elections.

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Russell Falcon

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