On Tuesday, Kenya goes to the polls to vote in the presidential election. It’s one misinformation researchers need to watch carefully as concerns have already been raised about the prevalence of hate speech on platforms.
Back in January, researcher Ann Ngengere told us in the Kinzen Weekly Wrap that, "The political class have for a long time used political parties to divide Kenyans based on their ethnicity. Just two weeks ago at a political rally, a politician made inflammatory remarks with the potential to ignite violence along ethnic lines. We need to be on the lookout for hate speech along ethnic lines, propaganda and targeted disinformation as this is bound to get worse as we get closer to the general election."
So it has come to this point, where there are still fears of election-related violence fuelled by misinformation and hate. For context: in 2007, 1,300 people were killed in the bloody aftermath of the elections, so these fears are reasonable. We will be watching.
Heidi J. Larson is the founder of the Vaccine Confidence Project, a group which studies concerns around vaccines. In her book Stuck: How Vaccine Rumors Start and Why They Don't Go Away, she explores this challenge. She argues that simply debunking falsehoods is not sufficient to help the public as they grapple with misinformation.
“What is needed”, she argues, “is a more fundamental change around the fertile ground which is fueling the concerns, rumors, and heated debates.” We need to understand these rumours as they are happening and make sure authorities are listening to people’s concerns. The book is a marvellous exposition of Larson’s findings, summarising research she has been doing for decades.
From the Kinzen Slack Channels
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Misinformation Review. Audio misinformation on WhatsApp: A case study from Lebanon
This study focuses on misinformation spread through WhatsApp voice notes. The sample size is rather small but it can be notoriously difficult for researchers to dig into this particular medium. The authors found repeated patterns in these particular notes: Establish an interpersonal relationship between sender and original receiver; Establish source credibility; Manipulation of tone and emotions to increase panic; Deliver misleading or inaccurate information; Incorporate an explicit call to action.
International Press Institute. How media capture left Hungarian voters vulnerable to disinformation (HVG)
This story on Hungary shows how difficult it is to fight mis and disinformation in states that are actively working to decrease media pluralism. "The analysis, carried out in the last days of the campaign on a representative sample of 1,000 voters, showed that a wide range of voters were exposed to false political messages and were not convinced of their veracity because of the one-sided state information... The survey showed that in Hungary, citizens’ fundamental right to be informed free from influence is seriously undermined by the media system established since 2010, whose ownership structure and state-controlled advertising spending are both determined by the political interests of the government."
The Washington Post. Tech’s blind spots: Sharing with researchers and listening to users
A coalition of platforms studied their own methods for keeping their spaces safe and found that more needs to be done to work with third party experts and to listen to user concerns. As Digital Trust and Safety Partnership Executive Director David Sullivan is quoted as saying, "Actually understanding user perspectives in these things and working with credible third-party groups, human rights organizations, academics, investors, all of that is where there’s an enormous amount of work to be done."
Brennan Center for Justice. Information Gaps and Misinformation in the 2022 Elections
Ahead of the 2022 midterm elections in the US, this report serves as a useful guide with recommendations for multiple stakeholders.
The Verge. Alex Jones must pay $4.1 million for spreading Sandy Hook conspiracy theory
There could be further punitive damages for Jones in this case, and there are more legal troubles ahead for him.
From the Archives
A space to highlight previous blog posts from the team at Kinzen
Earlier this year, Ben Whitelaw published a blog post outlining the challenges faced by fact-checkers as they struggle with audio content. He summarised findings by various groups he spoke with ahead of Global Fact 9. It’s got some great insights into this challenging format for research. Check it out here.