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Report accuses TikTok of spreading hate speech ahead of Kenya poll

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TikTok, owned by ByteDance in China, saw explosive growth during the pandemic

TikTok, owned by ByteDance in China, saw explosive growth during the pandemic – Copyright AFP/File Wakil Kohsar

Hillary ORINDE

Clips containing hate-speech, political disinformation and threats of ethnic violence are spreading on TikTok ahead of Kenya’s high-stakes elections, a new report said Wednesday, accusing the video-sharing platform of “failing its first real test in Africa”.

East Africa’s economic powerhouse will hold presidential and parliamentary elections on August 9, in the shadow of previous polls which have often been marred by ethnic violence.

On Wednesday, the US-based global non-profit Mozilla Foundation said it had analysed 130 videos which sought to spread misinformation and stoke fear, accruing over four million views after being shared by dozens of accounts.

“Kenya’s democracy carries a tainted past of post-election violence. Now, political disinformation on TikTok — in violation of the platform’s own policies — is stirring up this highly volatile political landscape,” Odanga Madung, a fellow at the foundation, said.

Many of the videos contained explicit threats of ethnic violence against communities based in the Rift Valley region, according to the non-profit.

In one instance, a video which drew more than 400,000 views, alleged that a certain presidential candidate hated a particular community and would target them if he came to power.

The torrent of misinformation included fake television news bulletins, doctored newspaper pages and sham opinion polls.

“The content targets specific communities with threats and uses past violence as a tool of fear,” the report said, adding that similar narratives were peddled in 2007 when a disputed election result sparked tribal violence which cost more than 1,100 lives.

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– ‘Remove election misinformation’ –

The report said TikTok had removed several videos and suspended many accounts after reviewing the report.

A spokesperson for TikTok told AFP that the company planned to roll out new features to connect users “with authoritative information about the Kenyan elections”.

“We prohibit and remove election misinformation, promotions of violence, and other violations of our policies.”

TikTok, which is owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance, saw explosive growth during the pandemic, but was doing little to rein in fake news, the report said.

Moderators were often asked to examine content which they knew little about, despite being unfamiliar with the context and the language used, a former TikTok employee told the researchers behind the report.

Kenya’s elections have been dogged by claims of fake news before.

An undercover expose by UK media revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a British consulting firm, used the personal data of millions of Facebook users to target political ads and spread misinformation during the 2013 and 2017 presidential campaigns.

“Rather than learn from the mistakes of more established platforms like Facebook and Twitter, TikTok is following in their footsteps, hosting and spreading political disinformation ahead of a delicate African election,” the report said.

“TikTok’s shortcomings in terms of moderation of the platform only adds fuel to the fire.”

Experts recently told AFP that the war in Ukraine had made TikTok the number one source of misinformation thanks to its gigantic number of users and minimal filtering of content.

AFP is a partner of TikTok, providing fact-checking services in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa.

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Interest in leaving Twitter grows as Musk’s grip tightens

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Twitter is changing under new owner Elon Musk

Twitter is changing under new owner Elon Musk – Copyright AFP/File Ben STANSALL

Analysis of Google Trends data reveals that web search trends for ‘Delete Twitter Account’ in the U.S. grew 335 percent on 1st week of November, 2022, around the same day when Elon Musk officially bought Twitter for $44 billion. Atypical for a takeover on this scale, the process was played out in public.

Many of the concerns are connected with the apparent right-wing shift in terms of the social media platform’s ethos that is being constructed as the result of Musk’s acquisition.

This finding came from a business-to-business networking site called SeeBiz. The company also saw a major increase in Google web search trends for other variations like “deactivate twitter”, “delete twitter”, “how to deactivate twitter”, “deactivate twitter account” etc. All the search term variations related to delete twitter are following same increasing trend as per the Google.

Elon Musk dubbed himself ‘Chief Twit’ in his Twitter profile and listed his location as the company’s San Francisco headquarters, as the deadline nears for him to complete his buyout. – Copyright AFP Hector RETAMAL

According to Richard Seymour writing in The Guardian, Musk has not purchased Twitter as the outcome of sound business analysis. Instead, this is part of political project and the consequences are unlikely to be positive. Seymour writes that Musk: “Notoriously rules by fear, breaking the law, busting unions and firing employees who criticise him. He appears to want to establish the same pattern at Twitter, based on his apparently unassailable conviction that he knows best.”

The chaos surrounding Elon Musk and his Twitter takeover seems to have upset a lot of the social media platform’s user base. Similar increase in trend these terms was also seen in the last week of April 2022, when Twitter initially announced that it had come to an agreement with Elon Musk.

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Analysis was also performed on the same trend in Google search volume as well:

Keywords and phrases Jul-22 Aug-22 Sep-22 Oct-22 Increase %
delete twitter account 60,500 60,500 49,500 110,000 94%
deactivate twitter 4,400 4,400 3,600 8,100 96%
delete twitter 5,400 5,400 4,400 12,100 139%
how to delete twitter 6,600 6,600 3,600 6,600 18%
how to deactivate twitter 3,600 2,900 2,900 5,400 72%
deactivate twitter account 1,600 1,600 1,300 2,900 93%
how to delete your twitter account 2,400 2,400 1,900 3,600 61%
how to delete twitter account permanently 1,000 1,000 1,000 1,900 90%
how to delete my twitter account 1,600 1,300 1,300 3,600 157%
how do I delete my twitter account 1,900 1,900 1,600 8,100 350%

In the U.S., the reaction to the buyout has been split along partisan lines, with praise for Musk’s planned reforms and vision for the company, particularly his calls for greater free speech coming from those of a conservative leaning. In contrast, Musk has received harsh criticism over fears of a potential rise in misinformation, disinformation, harassment, and hate speech on the platform, from those of a liberal or social democratic persuasion.

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