KENYA’S SO­CIAL ME­DIA ELEC­TION

Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica blamed for di­vi­sive cam­paign that stokes vi­o­lent im­pulses

Global Times - - World -

Astrik­ingly toxic cam­paign ad was un­leashed on­line in Kenya just weeks be­fore na­tional elec- elec tions – a po­ten­tially ex­plo­sive move in a coun­try where pol­i­tics and eth­nic­ity are closely aligned.

The 90- sec­ond video, shot in moody mono­chrome, pre­sented a dystopia in which Raila Odinga, the lead­ing op­po­si­tion can­di­date, wins the Au­gust vote and plunges the na­tion into a vi­o­lent and in­ept dic­ta­tor­ship.

Un­der this sce­nario, tribes would be set against one an­other while ter­ror­ists run riot. “Stop Raila, Save Kenya. The Fu­ture of Kenya is in Your Hands,” the video said.

East Africa’s largest econ­omy holds its gen­eral elec­tion on Au­gust 8, a decade af­ter dis­puted poll re­sults fu­eled vi­o­lence that left more than 1,100 dead and hun­dreds of thou­sands dis­placed.

It is un­clear who is be­hind last week’s slick video or “The Real Raila,” the shad­owy pro- govern­ment out­fit that dis­sem­i­nated it.

But some on Kenya’s vi­brant so­cial me­dia net­works were quick to blame Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica ( CA), a com­pany cred­ited with us­ing its data min­ing and psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­fil­ing tech­niques to help swing re­cent votes in the United States and Britain.

In May, lo­cal press re­ported Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta’s Ju­bilee cam­paign had hired CA. A spokesman, Nick Fievet, de­clined to com­ment on CA’s pos­si­ble work in Kenya but said it had “no con­nec­tion” with the at­tack video.

‘ It can lead to war’

With 7.1 mil­lion Face­book users and an es­ti­mated two- thirds of Kenya’s 45 mil­lion peo­ple able to ac­cess the In­ter­net, there is a crit­i­cal mass of peo­ple leav­ing an in­creas­ingly de­tailed trail of in­for­ma­tion about their fears and pref­er­ences – a rich re­source for those seek­ing to in­flu­ence vot­ing choices.

“Here it can lead to war,” said John Githongo, a vet­eran anti- cor­rup­tion cam­paigner. “The wrong video, the wrong in­for­ma­tion, it can go out of con­trol.”

Githongo be­lieves both govern­ment and op­po­si­tion seek to use the new tech­niques, but the rul­ing party is more ef­fec­tive. “Ju­bilee has been way ahead from the very be­gin­ning.”

CA worked on Keny­atta’s last cam­paign in 2013 – de­vised by PR com­pany BTP Ad­vis­ers – to paint Keny­atta and his run­ning mate Wil­liam Ruto as vic­tims of a West­ern im­pe­ri­al­ist plot to try them at the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court for po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated tribal vi­o­lence.

“We made the elec­tion a choice about whether Kenyans would de­cide their own fu­ture or have it dic­tated to them by oth­ers,” said a state­ment by Lon­don- based BTP, which is re­port­edly work­ing with Keny­atta and Ruto again this year.

Data col­lec­tion

Ac­cord­ing to its web­site, CA “de­signed and im­ple­mented the largest po­lit­i­cal re­search project ever con­ducted in East Africa” ahead of the 2013 vote to hone a cam­paign based on vot­ers’ de­sires for jobs and fears of “tribal vi­o­lence.”

It also “seg­mented the Kenyan pop­u­la­tion into key tar­get au­di­ences”.

Now there are fears data will be swept up and used to cre­ate psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­files of vot­ers so that spe­cific mes­sages can be tai­lored to spe­cific vot­ers.

Fred­erike Kalthe­uner, a pol­icy of­fi­cer at data ad­vo­cacy group Pri­vacy In­ter­na­tional, is wor­ried by the “lack of any kind of data pro­tec­tion frame­work” in Kenya.

“There are con­cerns about the in­tegrity of data in Kenya. Who would have ac­cess to it? Who is stor­ing it? Do peo­ple even know what is be­ing col­lected about them? None of these ques­tions are be­ing an­swered,” she said.

Oth­ers are con­cerned about what hap­pens when you seek to seg­ment a so­ci­ety for elec­toral pur­poses where al­ready politi­cians’ pri­mary ap­peals are to their eth­nic con­stituents.

“There are very strong com­mu­ni­ties in Kenya and that’s ex­actly the kind of sit­u­a­tion present where you can start to drive dif­fer­ent con­versa-con­vers sa­tions about the elec­tion in dif­fer­ent­d­if­feren nt sub- com­mu­ni­ties,” said Paul- OlivierOliv De­haye, a Swiss math­e­ma­ti­cian and data ac­tivist who has stud­ied CA’s tech­niques.

“We’ve seen it with Brexit and the US elec­tion, and the same can be done in Kenya, or else­where that there’s a lot of frag­men­ta­tion al­ready.”

Fake news, trolls and bots

“Fake news,” a term that dom­i­nates po­lit­i­cal dis­course in the United States, has al­ready made it­self felt in Kenya’s elec­tion

Jef­frey Smith, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the US- based Van­guard Africa, an or­ga­ni­za­tion pro­mot­ing free and fair elec­tions, has been un­der at­tack since he in­vited Odinga to the United States in March to meet pol­i­cy­mak­ers.

Soon after­ward, fake let­ters – com­plete with Van­guard’s com­pany header and Smith’s forged sig­na­ture – be­gan to cir­cu­late on Kenyan so­cial me­dia pur­port­ing to re­veal ef­forts to rig Kenya’s elec­tion for Odinga.

Smith then started suf­fer­ing at the hands of trolls.

“At least once a week I’ll wake up and have hun­dreds of Twit­ter no­ti­fi­ca­tions from ac­counts that are clearly bots and trolls tweet­ing in a co­or­di­nated man­ner, post­ing the same bo­gus and en­tirely false in­for­ma­tion over and over again,” Smith said.

Data sci­en­tist Ti­mothy Oriedo, founder of con­sult­ing com­pany Vault Global, ac­knowl­edges the grow­ing im­por­tance of the on­line bat­tle­ground but says old- style tac­tics still play a key role.

“The old tech­niques of voter sup­pres­sion, the nor­mal things, will con­tinue: bal­lot stuff­ing, ger­ry­man­der­ing,” he added.

Photo: AFP

Men watch a cam­paign ad that was un­leashed on the In­ter­net this week in Nairobi, just weeks be­fore Kenya’s na­tional elec­tions.

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