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Why Kenya Pays Its Influencers To Spread False Information

When I last scrolled through Instagram, I saw a content-influencer selling and promoting a peanut butter brand on her account, mostly by listing its healthy and fat-free ingredients. Kenyan Influencers have gone a few steps further, and are minting money starting from 10 dollars to up to 250 dollars by propagating political campaigns. #AnarchistJudges was trending all over Kenya, apparently driven by bots, allegedly blaming judges for narcotics dealings, bribery, and political partisanship.

Paying Influencers for spreading political misinformation in Kenya, Illegitimate means to earn money in Kenya, Misuse of Social Media, Pre-election disturbance in Kenya
Illustration by Richard Mduli

The government's Building Bridges Initiative was under review by the Kenyan High Court when researchers busted a series of hashtags that were attacking the judicial setup and running pro-government hashtags on popular platform Twitter. The court dismissed the initiative and declared it "null and void." Even the deputy prime minister vocally despised the initiative and asked its supporters to apologize to the citizens of the African nation. The leadership also portrayed that these activists on social media were funded by him. For a country that is economically weak, having a mass income of a meager 1 dollar per day is a lucrative style of earning money by doing nothing but a series of tweets with the same hashtag.

The strategic spread of misinformation is as old as elections themselves, but this Internet game is now a new setup and a complete spin in the game. Twitter's data doesn't necessarily reveal a tweeter's location or even his actual name if not permitted, which makes tracking the spreader difficult. In the past 15 years, more than 60 million dollars have been collected as remunerations for using bots and amplification strategies as per an Oxford Internet Institute report. Media stakeholders in Kenya launched guidelines for journalists to address issues surrounding election reporting, dealing with misinformation and corruption, and political advertisement post the episode.

It is not the first instance where social media operationalized disruptions of political proceedings in Kenya. Similar matters were reported in 2017, where financers had deployed Twitter influencers to spread disinformation. Payments were made directly to their e-wallets in an app called M-Pesa.

Hate speech and Misinformation are not new concepts. Various political regimes have been accursed for facilitating such an adumbral business. While in most places this method is used to subvert opposition parties, In Kenya Judiciary was targeted to remain undetected. These campaigns are not just pre-election cycles but rather a seed that is sown well in advance to influence results. The country's next election cycle is scheduled almost a year later in 2022, and this could well just be a beginning of an even more shadowy route. This setup must urgently be detected and curbed. Twitter, on the other hand, has been a center for political and opinionated speeches, and a platform people mostly use to raise voices.

It needs to make sure by allowing a transparent and un-interfered experience, they aren't supporting mal-practices that are continuing to grow in various countries one after the other. The app can instate some decisive changes that can help in the better moderation of elections. Employing cyber experts that can regulate the app in multiple countries and keep a check on hashtags especially during elections, or even dismantling trends during elections can be a solution. The world needs good democracy's to sustain, and if upcoming countries with democratic setups slip away like this, it could well be a highly costly affair.


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