The letter purported to be from the assistant registrar of companies dated July 22, 2017, lists the names of the directors and shareholders of “Debates Kenya Limited”, the company that hosted the just concluded running mates and presidential candidates’ debates.
The directors include National Super Alliance (Nasa) director of communications Kathleen Openda, businessman Jimi Wanjigi, chairman of Royal Media Services S.K Macharia and Infotrak CEO Angela Ambitho.
At a glance, the letter looks legitimate, complete with the signature of the assistant registrar of companies.
READ: 9.6 million viewers watch presidential debate on TV
But if you take a closer look there are obvious discrepancies – including misnaming “Debates Media Limited”, a company bringing together various media organisations that put together the event, and having the letter written on a Saturday.
The fake letter also surfaced on social media a day after President Uhuru Kenyatta snubbed the July 24 presidential debate, leaving Nasa candidate Raila Odinga to have the entire 90 minutes of the debate to himself.
Uhuru: Why I snubbed debate
The chairman of the steering committee on the presidential debates, Mr Wachira Waruru, confirmed that the letter is fake.
Closely linked to the presidential debate is a video purporting to be a news clip from American broadcaster CNN showing that an online poll puts President Kenyatta ahead of Mr Odinga, even after Mr Kenyatta snubbed the debate.
If you are judging the credibility of the clip by the TV stations’ look and feel, then it looks very convincing because the “CNN” is placed with the right fonts.
But listening closely, you discover that the news clip is fake because it is quoting a Twitter Poll by a popular blogger that shows Mr Kenyatta is ahead by 59 per cent against Mr Odinga’s 41 per cent.
CNN has confirmed that the video is fake.
“This report on Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta is fake. CNN did not produce or broadcast this story” a CNN spokesperson said.
Another video allegedly from a BBC programme “Focus on Africa” claims that President Kenyatta is anticipating a “decisive victory”, ruling out the possibility of a run-off.
The story goes on to site Mr Kenyatta’s development record and quotes a recent poll – without including when exactly it was done and the pollster – alleging that Mr Kenyatta’s popularity is now at 54.5 per cent against Mr Odinga’s 43.5 per cent.
READ: Uhuru, Raila in dead heat — Infotrak poll
The story also quotes a more recent poll after the debate to show that the President’s popularity has increased by 56.8 per cent even after failing to show up for the debate.
What gives away this fake BBC video is that in the final part – which is actually accurate – the presenter reads more news about three Kenyan men being sentenced to death for stripping a woman, which happened before the presidential debate.
BBC confirms the video is fake and has cautioned Kenyans to be on the lookout for fake news.
“We are aware of a video with BBC News branding circulating on WhatsApp about the #Kenya Election featuring a bogus opinion poll.
“This is NOT a BBC story so please check and verify any report that claims to come from the BBC. Don’t fall for #fakenews!” Vera Kwakofi, the BBC Africa TV Editor, said.
Fake news is increasingly becoming an integral part in this year’s election.
The reality of fake news is demonstrated by a recent study that found that at least nine out of 10 Kenyans suspected to having seen or heard fake news and information regarding the upcoming elections.
The research by Portland Communications and Geopoll surveyed 2,000 respondents and found that 87 per cent of Kenyans have seen news that they suspected was deliberately false.
The study also found that the instant private messaging apps such as WhatsApp were among the most popular platforms for sharing and discussing fake news.
None of the two sides of Jubilee and Nasa can officially be accused of using fake news to advance their numbers as there is no direct link between the fake news and either political side.
It is however clear the Jubilee and Nasa bloggers have been creating, sharing and distributing fake news online meant to influence public perceptions on various matters.
“I don’t want to attribute the fake news officially to any side, but I know it is part of their strategy,” Dr Sam Kamau of the Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communication said.
There is however a general feeling that they are indirectly sponsored by each of the sides to create an online spin on various issues and to generate propaganda.
“An inference can be made based on which side the content of fake news is likely to benefit.
“I suspect both Nasa and Jubilee have enlisted clandestine outfits to do their dirty work,” Dr Muiru Ngugi, a lecturer at University of Nairobi’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said.
You cannot also rule out the fact that perhaps their most committed supporters may be acting on their own volition, with no prompting and acting purely out of the love of their preferred political party.
Dr Ngugi refuted this, saying that the current fake news messaging is all too well choreographed and aptly timed to be an amateur’s job.
Take the CNN video, for instance, which emerged immediately after Mr Odinga’s appearance.
“The timing was uncanny. Someone clearly wanted to sway the interpretation of Mr Odinga’s performance,” Dr Ngugi said.
Jubilee Party said it has nothing to do with the said fake videos.
In fact, they said it could be an attempt by rival Nasa to create an illusion of winning to persuade Jubilee supporters to be complacent and not come out to vote.
“I don’t think such videos help us,” Jubilee Party Secretary General Raphael Tuju said.
“This is definitely the work of people who want to send around word to our support base that ‘we have already won this’ so they don’t come out to vote. This only hurts us.”
Mr Tuju said he is equally shocked to see the videos – which he said he was seeing for the first time when Sunday Nation contacted him.
“We cannot engage in this, must be some young people doing this. It has nothing to do with Jubilee Party,” Mr Tuju said.
Fake news discredits and delegitimises the truth about an issue or an individual and questions the credibility of an institution such as the main stream media.
Fake news is now more sophisticated, masterfully put together videos mimicking real news sites such as BBC and CNN, packaged as real news and spread to gullible audiences who may not posses the keen eye to tell fact from fiction.
“The sad bit we have noted is that, the very nature of social media, especially the tight trust bonds due to kinship or friendship, or liaison within the closed groups allows people to believe information,” Alphonce Shiundu, the Kenya editor at Africa Check, a fact-checking organisation, said.
Mr Shiundu pointed out that fake news is now often spread by people attaching the infamous ubiquitous disclaimer “as received” followed up with “is it true?” to absolve themselves of any blame of spreading fake news.