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Why hate mongers are hiding on the web

Social media watch

The Government is once again in a spot over failure to effectively crackdown on hate speech as Kenya inches closer to one of its most uncertain elections ever.

So far, less than a dozen people, according to a tally of media reports, have been arrested and charged for the vice as the country steam rolls into social media anarchy courtesy of inflammatory posts.

Meanwhile, the Government and technology companies are stumbling over themselves on how to control messaging that may spark violence.

Several pieces of regulation have been passed over the last four months to regulate content on social media, but enforcement has proven another issue all together.

“It shall be the responsibility of the content author to authenticate, validate the source and truthfulness of their content prior to publishing,” warns the Political Messaging Regulations published on July 4.

Poor enforcement

“Political messages shall not contain offensive, abusive, insulting, misleading, confusing, obscene or profane language,” warns the Guidelines for Prevention of Dissemination of Undesirable Bulk Political SMS released in June.

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The state has also warned administrators of WhatsApp groups that they face arrest if they cannot control dissemination of messages bordering on hate speech on their platforms, something technology experts say is not possible.

“The social media rules are not clear,” observes Grace Mutungu of the Kenya ICT Action Network (Kictanet).

Nevertheless, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) insists it is monitoring all platforms and whoever will be found at fault will be charged.

“In 2013, there was less inclination to violence compared to this year. The amount of hate speech we are witnessing right now can only be compared to 2007 but on a bigger scale since more people have smart phones,” says Francis ole Kaparo, the NCIC chair. What is putting NCIC on the edge, however, is the difficulty of tracking down perpetrators of hate speech since most of them do not use their real names.

Real culprits

“Obviously there are challenges because people use pseudonyms and when you find them there is the challenge of finding out where they exactly are,” says Kaparo.

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Last month, two men were charged in quick succession in what appeared a renewed crackdown on hate speech on social media by the state. On July 17, Fred Kipsiwa, a nursing intern at the Trans Nzoia County Referral Hospital, was charged in an Eldoret court for allegedly threatening two communities.

The previous day, Meshak Kipchirchir had pleaded not guilty for posting an inciting message on a Facebook group.

The Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE) has termed the arrest of the two as a publicity exercise by the government, accusing it of failing to go for the real perpetrators.

“The reality is the politicians are where the real hatespeech is,” says Silas Kachwana, the chair of the association.

The Law Society of Kenya (LSK) says it is difficult to police what is posted on social media without risking infringing on the freedom of expression.

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