Government tightens restriction on social media use

Information, Communications and Technology Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru on Thursday said his ministry was also working closely with the Interior Affairs docket headed by Maj-Gen (rtd) Joseph Nkaissery to ensure guidelines developed by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission are adhered to by social media users.

Mr Mucheru spoke on the day Inspector-General of Police Joseph Boinnet lamented that social media platforms, popular with many Kenyans since the advent of smartphones and affordable internet connectivity, are being used for incitement.

The government is tightening restriction on social media use ahead of the August 8 General Election, keeping a close eye on political posts and what it calls “sensational reporting” on “unauthenticated digital platforms” such as those hosted on Facebook and Twitter.

‘FOR INCITEMENT

“I appeal to all of us to avoid being sensational on unauthenticated reporting that can raise the alarm and cause public disorder,” said Mr Boinnet in Nairobi after chairing a meeting of top security commanders from various security formations.

In a text statement, Mr Mucheru told the Nation that a series of consultative meetings in the coming days will discuss how to stop misuse of social media platforms for selfish political gain.

“We have held several consultative meetings and have ensured we have both online and offline teams monitoring political messaging,” said Mr Mucheru. “We have the technology and people on the ground to ensure enforcement.”

HATE SPEECH

The Interior ministry said it was crowdsourcing to monitor hate speech and incitement to violence in the country before, during and after the election.

Spokesman Mwenda Njoka said the ministry, which has been given the task of enforcement by NCIC, has assigned officers from the National Police Service, the National Intelligence Service and the Communications Authority of Kenya to monitor the spread of information that could fuel violence.

NCIC, which is chaired by Mr Francis ole Kaparo, has issued strict guidelines on the use of Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and other digital messaging platforms in a bid to prevent the transmission of undesirable political content.

The guidelines, coming at a time of heightened political tension in the country ahead of the election, particularly bar political messages that are offensive, abusive, insulting, misleading, confusing, obscene or profane.

‘DISCRIMINATORY LANGUAGE’

The cohesion commission says messages that contain “inciting, threatening or discriminatory language that may, or is, intended to expose an individual or group of individuals to violence, hatred, hostility, discrimination or ridicule on the basis of ethnicity, tribe, race, colour, religion, gender or disability” constitute a breach of the law.

Mobile phone operators have been given the power to stop circulation of any message deemed inflammatory.

The rules also dictate that no bulk text messages will be in vernacular.

In 2008, more than 1,300 lives were lost in post-election violence that was largely blamed on hate speech.

RECEIVED CRITICISM

The guidelines, however, have been met with criticism as they were not approved by Parliament. Mr Mucheru, however, dismissed allegations of backdoor censorship, saying this was simply the right thing to do.

“The guidelines are dealing with what is not allowed,” said Mr Mucheru. “We want to ensure that we have a country that is safe.

“If someone is caught, he or she will be taken through the legal process. The Judiciary enforces the law; so there is nothing sinister about this.”

Those who violate the guidelines will be punished in line with the NCIC Act, the Penal Code and other relevant laws. The NCIC Act provides for a minimum of Sh1 million fine or a jail term not exceeding three years or both.

‘CONTENT AUTHOR’

“The rules provide that it shall be the responsibility of the content author to authenticate and validate the source and truthfulness of their content prior to publishing,” state the guidelines.

Prior to sending a political message, the content service providers are required to make a request to a mobile network operator at least 48 hours in advance. That includes verbatim content of the message and a signed authorisation letter from the individual or political party sponsoring it.

The content will then be vetted by the operator to ensure compliance and notify the requesting entity within 18 hours of submission of the request.

However, the operator has the right to refuse the transmission of a proposed message.

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