Michael Gor
February 15, 2022

Empowering Youths in Kenya to be More Resilient to Harmful Content during 2022 Electioneering Period

Over the last decade, social media has increasingly been used as a source of information - a mechanism for creating and conveying content online. While this has greatly enhanced access to information and freedom of expression, there has been a dramatic increase in the volume of disinformation and other forms of harmful content. This has been exacerbated by the increased uptake and consumption of content on social media. It is estimated that, in 2021 alone, more than 4.5 billion people globally had access to the internet and used social media to share information. Considering the architecture of the internet and with more than half the global population being active users of the internet, the pace at which information spreads has become increased and audiences widened.

While this ability to share information with ease is a marker of global progress, the world remains exposed to the constant threat of harmful content. The adverse impact of misinformation and disinformation threatens social cohesion and core democratic principles.

Most recently, social media has been an indispensable tool in politics largely used in campaigns. And with unrestricted access and weak or lack of effective regulations of digital technologies, the effects of fake news and harmful online content have been manifested across the world, even in the most advanced democracies. For instance, disinformation and fake news regarding the outcome of the 2020 presidential elections in the United States was alleged to have contributed to the insurrection at Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021. Also, in the United Kingdom, observers have argued that the 2015 Brexit referendum vote was significantly compromised by agents that actively misinformed the British population. Such examples of the harmful effects of fake news and other polarizing information on societal cohesion and democratic principles have been witnessed across the world, including in Indonesia, the Philippines, Colombia, Germany, Italy and Spain, among others.

The African continent, particularly Kenya, is no stranger to the consequences of fake news, hate speech and other harmful content spreading online. The 2007 general elections in Kenya were accompanied by violence fueled by hate speech. In 2017, polarizing information put the country at the brink of violence. Addressing the spread of misinformation and other forms of harmful content in 2017 was more challenging, considering the complexity brought about by the use of social media and the internet to propagate such harmful content. In Kenya today, more people, especially youths, have access to social media and the internet than in 2017. With the general elections just months away, it means that Kenya’s democratic principles are now put under extreme test and threat, granted the feisty nature of the country’s politics.

Considering the realities of online harmful content and the danger it poses for democracy, societal tranquility and sustainability of established norms that bind communities together,  countering fake news and other forms of harmful content shared across both online and offline platforms is now critical. There is a need for concerted efforts by both state and non-state actors to address the threats and harms posed by harmful content. The potential role of social media in peace building and encouraging dialogue needs to emphasized and more focus put into utilizing digital technologies to promote peace narratives.

In contributing to efforts to promote peace and fight fake news in wake of the upcoming 2022 general elections, UNESCO is implementing an EU-funded project on Social Media for Peace in Kenya. Through the project, UNESCO seeks to empower youth in the country to be more resilient to harmful content.

The Africa Centre for People Institutions and Society (Acepis) is working together with UNESCO and the EU in these endeavours. During the months of February and March 2022, Acepis will identify and train at least 300 young people drawn from 47 counties in Kenya on Media and Information Literacy (MIL) and how to use MIL skills to be more discerning creators and consumers of content online. The series of trainings targets to equip youth in Kenya to identify, counter and report online harmful content. This shall be augmented with knowledge brokering sessions where representatives of prominent social media platforms shall engage youths on their Community Guidelines in relation to harmful content.

#SocialMedia4Peace campaign in Kenya facilitated by Africa Centre for People Institutions and Society (ACEPIS)

The training will be complemented by an online awareness-raising campaign that will be run concurrently with the trainings in February and March 2022. The online campaign will target to produce and share messages on how to counter harmful content in Kenya, and promote peace-building narratives on social media. The campaign shall include production of blogs, hosting tweet chats, live video chats and dissemination of short videos on how to counter harmful content online.

The overall objective of these and other similar efforts is to build a society that is resilient and able to diffuse fake news and other forms of harmful content across online and offline platforms, during and beyond the 2022 the electioneering period.

Acepis invites any interested actors that work in this space or share similar mandates for partnerships and collaborative arrangements.

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3 comments on “Empowering Youths in Kenya to be More Resilient to Harmful Content during 2022 Electioneering Period”

Michael Gor
February 15, 2022

Empowering Youths in Kenya to be More Resilient to Harmful Content during 2022 Electioneering Period

Over the last decade, social media has increasingly been used as a source of information - a mechanism for creating and conveying content online. While this has greatly enhanced access to information and freedom of expression, there has been a dramatic increase in the volume of disinformation and other forms of harmful content. This has been exacerbated by the increased uptake and consumption of content on social media. It is estimated that, in 2021 alone, more than 4.5 billion people globally had access to the internet and used social media to share information. Considering the architecture of the internet and with more than half the global population being active users of the internet, the pace at which information spreads has become increased and audiences widened.

While this ability to share information with ease is a marker of global progress, the world remains exposed to the constant threat of harmful content. The adverse impact of misinformation and disinformation threatens social cohesion and core democratic principles.

Most recently, social media has been an indispensable tool in politics largely used in campaigns. And with unrestricted access and weak or lack of effective regulations of digital technologies, the effects of fake news and harmful online content have been manifested across the world, even in the most advanced democracies. For instance, disinformation and fake news regarding the outcome of the 2020 presidential elections in the United States was alleged to have contributed to the insurrection at Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021. Also, in the United Kingdom, observers have argued that the 2015 Brexit referendum vote was significantly compromised by agents that actively misinformed the British population. Such examples of the harmful effects of fake news and other polarizing information on societal cohesion and democratic principles have been witnessed across the world, including in Indonesia, the Philippines, Colombia, Germany, Italy and Spain, among others.

The African continent, particularly Kenya, is no stranger to the consequences of fake news, hate speech and other harmful content spreading online. The 2007 general elections in Kenya were accompanied by violence fueled by hate speech. In 2017, polarizing information put the country at the brink of violence. Addressing the spread of misinformation and other forms of harmful content in 2017 was more challenging, considering the complexity brought about by the use of social media and the internet to propagate such harmful content. In Kenya today, more people, especially youths, have access to social media and the internet than in 2017. With the general elections just months away, it means that Kenya’s democratic principles are now put under extreme test and threat, granted the feisty nature of the country’s politics.

Considering the realities of online harmful content and the danger it poses for democracy, societal tranquility and sustainability of established norms that bind communities together,  countering fake news and other forms of harmful content shared across both online and offline platforms is now critical. There is a need for concerted efforts by both state and non-state actors to address the threats and harms posed by harmful content. The potential role of social media in peace building and encouraging dialogue needs to emphasized and more focus put into utilizing digital technologies to promote peace narratives.

In contributing to efforts to promote peace and fight fake news in wake of the upcoming 2022 general elections, UNESCO is implementing an EU-funded project on Social Media for Peace in Kenya. Through the project, UNESCO seeks to empower youth in the country to be more resilient to harmful content.

The Africa Centre for People Institutions and Society (Acepis) is working together with UNESCO and the EU in these endeavours. During the months of February and March 2022, Acepis will identify and train at least 300 young people drawn from 47 counties in Kenya on Media and Information Literacy (MIL) and how to use MIL skills to be more discerning creators and consumers of content online. The series of trainings targets to equip youth in Kenya to identify, counter and report online harmful content. This shall be augmented with knowledge brokering sessions where representatives of prominent social media platforms shall engage youths on their Community Guidelines in relation to harmful content.

#SocialMedia4Peace campaign in Kenya facilitated by Africa Centre for People Institutions and Society (ACEPIS)

The training will be complemented by an online awareness-raising campaign that will be run concurrently with the trainings in February and March 2022. The online campaign will target to produce and share messages on how to counter harmful content in Kenya, and promote peace-building narratives on social media. The campaign shall include production of blogs, hosting tweet chats, live video chats and dissemination of short videos on how to counter harmful content online.

The overall objective of these and other similar efforts is to build a society that is resilient and able to diffuse fake news and other forms of harmful content across online and offline platforms, during and beyond the 2022 the electioneering period.

Acepis invites any interested actors that work in this space or share similar mandates for partnerships and collaborative arrangements.

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3 comments on “Empowering Youths in Kenya to be More Resilient to Harmful Content during 2022 Electioneering Period”

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