Meta is taking aggressive steps to counter the spread of misinformation on its services in Kenya, by removing content that could incite violence or cause physical harm ahead of the August 9 general elections.
The facebook parent company on Wednesday said that they are working with their fact-checking partners in the country who include -AFP, Africa Check and PesaCheck to review and rate potentially false content on their platforms, label it, and place it lower in their feed to limit the number of people seeing it.
“We are careful however, not to limit political speech since we have a fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and the belief that political speech is the most scrutinized speech there is,” Meta Public Policy Director for East Africa and Horn of Africa Mercy Ndegwa said.
Her remarks come at a time when different political parties, politicians and mainstream media have become targets of fake news as the election campaigns enter its homestretch.
Mrs. Ndegwa said that the social media giant is also decreasing the risk of “problematic content” going viral in Kenya and potentially inciting violence or hatred ahead of or during the August 9 election by temporarily reducing the distribution of content from individuals who have been flagged for repeatedly or severely violating their policies so that fewer people see it.
“In 2019 we reduced the number of people you can forward a message on WhatsApp to just five chats at once and introduced the ‘forwarded’ and ‘highly forwarded’ labels to highlight when something has been shared multiple times. We’ve since further reduced the number of people you can send a highly forwarded message to, to just one chat at once, which has resulted in a 70 per cent reduction in the number of highly forwarded messages on WhatsApp,” Ndegwa said.
She further said that the measures are inspired by Meta’s experience in supporting over 200 elections globally, including key elections across Sub Saharan Africa.
The Meta boss pointed out that Meta’s dedicated teams have also been working closely with elections authorities and trusted partners in countries facing elections to customize its strategies and take appropriate steps to stay ahead of emerging threats and make sure it is prepared long before people cast their votes
“We know we have an important responsibility when it comes to helping people participate in elections and to ensure safe, secure, and free elections. Using lessons from the past and input from experts and policymakers across the political spectrum, we’ve made substantial investments in people and technology to reduce misinformation, remove harmful content on our platforms, fight voter interference and promote civic engagement during the elections,” Ndegwa said of its efforts around election integrity in Kenya.
The Meta Public Policy Director further said that the company is also prioritizing the safety of their users with a deep focus on elections through the guidance of their Community Standards which she notes define what is and isn’t allowed in their platforms in order to keep people safe, while protecting their right to free expression.
“We have made massive investments on safety and security with more than 40,000 people working on these issues – and spent approximately $5 billion on safety and security in 2021 alone,” she said.
She added that the company has also formed a global cross-functional team dedicated to the Kenya elections, which includes Kenyans and people who have spent significant amounts of time in the country, adding that they recognize that local understanding is critical on matters elections
The team also includes individuals with global expertise in topics like misinformation, hate speech, elections and disinformation.
“These teams are working hard to prevent any abuse of our services before, during and after Kenya’s 2022 general election. Locally, we also have permanent staff who reside in Kenya and work in the public policy, public policy programmes, communications and product teams,” she added.
Mrs. Ndegwa further said that as part of the initiative, anybody seeking to run political ads in Kenya must now go through a verification process to prove who they are and that they reside in the country.
“These ads are labelled with a disclaimer, so you can see who paid for them and stored them in our public Ads Library for seven years, so that everyone can see what ads are running, what types of people saw them and how much was spent. We also offer controls so that people in Kenya can choose not to see any of these political ads which run with a disclaimer,” Ndegwa stated.
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