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Empowering youths to tackle online hate and misinformation ahead of 2022 Kenyan elections

16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
17 - Partnerships for the Goals

In electoral contexts, social media have been lauded as equalizers enhancing the flow of information between candidates and voters. Yet, they have also been misused to distort citizen’s decision-making process. As Kenyans will go to the polls to elect their President, members of Parliament and county Governors in August 2022, UNESCO in partnership with the Africa Centre for People Institutions and Society (Acepis) and close collaboration with META (Facebook), Search for Common Grounds, The Sentinel Project and EU in Kenya mobilized young people across the country to participate in series of trainings on media and information literacy, and social media campaign to tackle online hate and misinformation. This intervention attracted participation of 163 young people (1st cohort), 289 youths (2nd cohort) and 795 (3rd cohort) drawn from across.

While giving opening remarks at the virtual workshop, Ms. Misako Ito, Regional Advisor for Communication and Information for Africa at UNESCO Regional Office in Nairobi said:

UNESCO’s past experiences have showed that we all instinctively like or share a post without necessarily thinking whether we should first verify and check the information before. But a click can have enormous impacts on social media and in the reality of people’s life. This is why UNESCO always encourages social media users to ‘Think Critically and Click Wisely.

Kenya has experienced the consequences of disinformation, hate speech and other harmful content in times of electoral campaigns. The 2007 general elections were accompanied by violence fueled by hate speech. In recent years, addressing the spread of misinformation and other forms of harmful content has become more and more challenging with the increased use of social media and the internet in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the efforts to promote peace and fight online hate speech in the wake of the upcoming 2022 general elections in Kenya, UNESCO is implementing the project Social Media 4 Peace funded by the European Union (EU). Through the project, UNESCO, the EU, and partners such as Africa Centre for People Institution and Society (ACEPIS) seek to empower youth in four countries around the world, including Kenya, to be more resilient to harmful content.

Katrine Hagemann, Deputy Head of Delegation of the EU in Kenya stated that:

Online hate and disinformation are complex issues which can trigger devastating effects. Political intolerance and hate speech have proliferated on traditional media outlets and social media platforms with users unwilling or unaware of how to moderate that content. This new method of potentially harmful hate speech and misinformation can easily impact offline violence. Fact based, fair and balanced information is a key ingredient to countering news and manipulative narratives.

At the trainings, Ms. Sarah Muyonga, Public Policy Manager, Meta, East and Horn of Africa indicated that:  

Social media can and must be a force for peace and human rights. Technology is providing new and creative ways for peace builders to foster alternative discourse and challenge prevailing conflict narrative. It can easily be used as a tool to divide and cause conflict. Meta will educate young people on the online tools they can use to stay safe, tools of privacy, engagement standards and how to avoid content that easily exercabate conflict.

Ms. Judy Kimamo, Director, Search For Common Ground stated:

Social media platforms are important spaces for gathering people. The Maskani research showed that young people largely use Facebook as a hangout space to interact, share and get information. As we get into the election season it is important that young people and influencers have the tools and capacity to be able to understand how misinformation and disinformation affects the delivery of elections and in wider scale contributing to peace and security in communities.” 

John Green Otunga. East African Programmes Manager, the Sentinel Project also stated that:

Misinformation and Disinformation is not new in our society but the exceptional and exponential proliferation of information audiences are exposed to in this day make it a challenge to filter and determine the legitimate from the manipulated and fake. A lot needs to be done to ensure vulnerable populations are protected from consuming and spreading unverified information ahead of the general elections. Let’s not wait until after the fact to react.

During the months of February and March 2022, ACEPIS has trained over 500 young people drawn from 47 counties in Kenya on Media and Information Literacy (MIL) competencies and skills to become more discerning creators and consumers of content online. As young voters are the most important consumers and producers of online content, the trainings target youth in Kenya to equip them with skills to identify, counter and report online harmful content.

The importance of social media cannot be overlooked, what happens online mimics and translates into what happens offline. Cognizant of this reality it is paramount that we ensure social media platforms are used positively for peacebuilding purposes. These trainings purpose to equip young people with skills to be responsible digital citizens especially as we get into the electioneering period.” said Rachel Olpengs, Programmes Manager of ACEPIS.   

The series of trainings are based on modules and toolkits developed by UNESCO and partners such as the Model Media and Information Literacy Curriculum for Educators and Learners Media and Information Literate Citizens: Think critically, Click Wisely ). The training programme is accompanied with knowledge brokering sessions where representatives of prominent social media platforms engage with youths on their community guidelines in relation to harmful content.

About the Social Media 4 Peace Project

The Social Media 4 Peace project is premised on the realization that while digitalization of societies presents opportunities for information flow, digital communication tools have also become instrumental platforms for spreading harmful content with a significant impact on conflict dynamics and peace. Through the project, UNESCO seeks to enhance understanding of the root causes, scale and impact of potentially harmful content and of the effectiveness of the tools to address it in the 3 pilot countries – Kenya, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Indonesia. The project is funded by the European Union and will contribute to the achievement of SDG 16, to promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies and to the UN Plan of Action on Hate Speech launched by UN Secretary General Antonio Gutierrez to combat the online disturbing groundswell of xenophobia, racism and intolerance.