Facebook’s misinformation headache in Kenya’s elections

It is exactly 100 days until Kenya‘s general elections and thousands of political aspirants cross the country every day bringing their agendas to the 1,846 electoral offices for election or re-election.

The official election campaign season begins on May 29, but the election campaigns are in full swing and tens of millions of Schillings have already been spent, most recently in the party primary.

In previous elections, the campaign period was marked by colorful billboards along the main thoroughfares and posters on every possible surface.

Today the tide has turned and Kenyan voters are gearing up for one of the most competitive elections in which platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp will play a crucial role.

In April, when major political parties held their primary elections, more than 600 ads were placed on Facebook alone. That’s an average of 20 ads per day, targeting Kenyan voters by age, gender, location, social and cultural preferences.

Facebook’s parent company Meta says the platform has invested heavily in recent years to protect itself from the spread of misinformation and hate speech on its platforms, which include Instagram and WhatsApp.

“We are constantly evaluating how to maintain and balance freedom of expression while maintaining the safety of other users,” said Mercy Ndegwa, Meta Public Policy Director for East and Horn of Africa.

“In the last year alone we have spent over Sh565 billion building the teams that deal with security at Meta and that team has quadrupled in the last six years to over 40,000 employees.”

The changes include an authorization process for advertisers who want to run ads about elections and politics that uniquely identifies the person or organization that paid for the ad.

Users are now prompted with pop-ups and contextual buttons should they choose to share a link on Facebook, while WhatsApp has capped the number of times a user can forward a message to slow content virality.

“Our policy requires that any advertiser wishing to create or edit ads for this country that are related to political figures, political parties, or elections must go through the authorization process, place “paid for” disclaimers on ads, and add those ads to the ad library.” must include,” Meta says of the vetted policy for ads served in Kenya.

Analysis of the Facebook Ad Library shows that advertising and campaigns for the August 9 election last year began during national voter registration and accelerated during the party primaries.

The vast majority of ads are benign and standard-sounding – politicians and their parties are urging voters to register to vote; Aspirants who, among other things, thank voters after winning party nominations or hyping recent public appearances.

However, despite the revised advertising policy, some of the political ads in the Facebook Ads Library still do not reveal the identity of the person who paid for them.

News articles or screenshots are also promoted as advertisements in several cases, and some of them can be difficult to spot or verify for the average user.

For example, a political ad presented as a news article from a Kenyan blog contains photos of a female MP with the Deputy President and a story that includes unverified claims of a relationship between the two leaders.

The ad ran for five days between May 13 and May 18, 2021 with up to 40,000 impressions and reached an estimated audience of more than one million users.

Political parties

The main target audience for the ad were young women between the ages of 25 and 34 living in the provinces of Nairobi and the Rift Valley.

Another ad, sponsored by one of Kenya’s leading political parties, shows an image of a fake ballot paper with five presidential candidates and their respective party symbols. The ad targeted an estimated audience of over one million users, primarily men and women between the ages of 18 and 34 living in Nairobi, the Rift Valley and the Central Provinces.

Section 5(j) of the Elections Offenses Act 2016 prohibits the unauthorized printing or falsification of ballot papers for use in an election.

Another gap is the fact that politicians and political party pages can still produce, post and distribute political content via the newsfeed and video service Facebook Live.

This allows individuals or organizations with large followings to bypass the platform’s political advertising policy review and distribute their content unchecked.

According to Ms Ndegwa, Meta hired staff in Kenya to detect nuanced disinformation and hate speech that could slip past the platform’s automatic moderation systems.

“In the case of the Kenyan elections, we increased our capacity to ensure we have local teams that have local understanding,” she said.

“Swahili and English are widely used on our platforms and we have teams reviewing and escalating content that could be problematic.”

However, Facebook has not released the exact number of content moderators working to oversee the Kenyan elections or how the platform will work to moderate harmful speech in slang.

At the same time, there has been growing concern and criticism of the exploitation of content moderators that Meta employs through third-party agreements.

Last month, Meta received a warning letter along with Samasource Kenya, a third-party company hired to provide content moderation services for Facebook.

The legal claim by Nzili and Sumbi Advocates was made on behalf of Daniel Motaung, a former content moderator from South Africa who was allegedly fired from Samasource in violation of labor rights.

The collection letter seen by The standard accuses Facebook and Samasource of luring Mr. Motaung and his colleagues for a job as content moderators without informing them of the type of posts they would be moderating. “The ad misrepresented the role and caused our client to understand that it was an administrative matter,” the letter of formal notice reads.

“It was not disclosed that the wanted content moderators were to work as Facebook content moderators.”

Samasource and Meta are also accused of neglecting the psychological well-being of the moderators, who are busy reviewing and removing content that is often graphic and disruptive to the platform.

“Sama and Meta failed to prepare our client for the type of work he was to undertake and its implications,” the letter reads.

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About Sonia Martinez

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