Face­book tool to com­bat fake news in Kenya

Elec­tion sees ri­vals ex­chang­ing words

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

NAIROBI: Face­book rolled out a tool this week to help Kenyan users spot fake news ahead of a hotly-con­tested pres­i­den­tial elec­tion that has seen sup­port­ers of ri­val can­di­dates trade bit­ter words on­line.

Vot­ers go to the polls on Tues­day to pick a president, par­lia­ment and regional rep­re­sen­ta­tives. President Uhuru Keny­atta is run­ning against arch-ri­val veteran op­po­si­tion leader Raila Odinga.

Polls have shown a tight race be­tween both can­di­dates after months of cam­paign­ing where sup­port­ers smeared each other on so­cial me­dia.

The tor­ture and mur­der of a se­nior of­fi­cial at the elec­toral com­mis­sion last week­end gen­er­ated an avalanche of con­spir­acy the­o­ries and ac­cu­sa­tions.

A sur­vey of 2 000 Kenyans car­ried out through mo­bile phone mes­sag­ing found that nine out of ev­ery 10 re­spon­dents had seen fake news and half of con­sumers got news through so­cial me­dia, ac­cord­ing to a study by Geopoll and Port­land Com­mu­ni­ca­tions last month.

“Fake news is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing a big prob­lem in Kenya,” said Alphonce Shi­undu, edi­tor of Africa Check, an NPO seek­ing to boost fact check­ing and news gather­ing on the con­ti­nent.

Face­book’s 7 mil­lion users in Kenya will see the new tool to help them eval­u­ate con­tent dis­played promi­nently when they log on. It leads to a page with tips on how to spot fake news, in­clud­ing check­ing web ad­dresses and sources and look­ing for other reports on the topic, Face­book said.

The new tool will be com- ple­mented by ad­verts in news­pa­pers and ra­dio sta­tions. An­nounce­ments will be in English and lo­cal Swahili lan­guage.

Fake news, mainly gen­er­ated by web­site own­ers to drive read­ers to their sites to gen­er­ate ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue, was thrust into the spot­light dur­ing the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion last year.

The is­sue has also become a big po­lit­i­cal topic in Europe, with French vot­ers del­uged with false sto­ries ahead of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in May and Ger­many back­ing a plan to fine so­cial me­dia net­works if they fail to re­move hate­ful post­ings promptly, ahead of elec­tions there next month.

Firms like Face­book have fought back by cut­ting in­cen­tives for sources of fake news, lock­ing fake user ac­counts, lim­it­ing spam and re­duc­ing links to sus­pect pages.

“Peo­ple want to see ac­cur- ate in­for­ma­tion on Face­book,” said Ebele Okobi, di­rec­tor of pol­icy at Face­book Africa.

Kenya’s elec­toral com­mis­sion said it had been a vic­tim of on­line fake news but it did not pro­vide de­tails.

Re­cent ex­am­ples for Kenya in­clude a pho­to­graph of a crum­bling bridge in a sec­tion of a new $3.2 bil­lion (R43bn) rail­way that Keny­atta touts as one of his main achieve­ments, Africa Check said.

A fake doc­u­ment claim­ing the com­pany that or­gan­ised a tele­vi­sion de­bate that Keny­atta snubbed was owned by Odinga al­lies was also an ex­am­ple of fake news, it said.

“From the kinds of things that we have seen do­ing rounds on­line, on Face­book, What­sApp, Twit­ter, and web­sites mim­ick­ing real news sites, we get the sense that there’s a lot of false con­tent about the elec­tions,” Shi­undu said. – Reuters

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

Kenya’s President Uhuru Keny­atta de­liv­ers a speech to Ju­bilee Party sup­port­ers dur­ing a cam­paign rally in Ki­tui on Thurs­day.

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