in Kenya, politics, Social Media, thoughts

The Communication Authority of Kenya(CA) & National Cohesion and Integration Commission(NCIC) published guidelines dealing with bulk SMSes and social media[PDF] for public consultation. The entire document is an interesting read and I encourage you to read it yourself; I would love to hear what you think in the comments. For this post, I’ll focus on Part 2 of the document: Guiidlines(sic) with regards to the use of social media for political messaging.

1. Social Media Content

1.1. Language and Tone

All social media content shall be written using a civilized language that avoids a tone and words that constitute hate speech, ethnic contempt, and incitement to violence, harassment, abusive, violence, defamatory or intimidating.

What does civilized in this case mean? It’s not a concept based in law as far as I know and should be dropped. I can be uncivilized and still not be in violation of this rule. Also it’s not in the purview of either organisation(NCIC or CA) to prosecute for defamation.

1.2. Accuracy and Accountability

It shall be the responsibility of the content author to authenticate, validate the source and truthfulness of their content prior to publishing to limit information that might spread rumors, mislead or cannot be supported by facts.

This one seems fine, I have nothing bad to say about it except I tend to skew towards more freedom of speech. I don’t know how this will affect opinions, like for example if I said “The president has demonstrated an incompetency in running his government that has been frankly astounding to behold.” would that get me censured under these rules?

1.3. Truthful posting and Publishing

Content authors shall be committed to be honest and correct in their content publishing and shall be responsible for all their content as published.

This seems to be reiterating the last section and should be removed. Or the last part ‘and shall be responsible for all their content as published.’ merged into the last section

1.4. Hate Speech

Political content shall only be published on social media in adherence to the Constitution, NCI Act and other relevant laws with regards to hate speech.

Not sure why only political content is hate speech, but our laws have always been myopic in that way.

1.5. Disclosure and Independence

Political content authors shall disclose any content published as a result of special requests, personal interests and affiliations so that the public is aware of, and is not unfairly influenced by, the content thereof.

Personal interests should be removed here, it’s unclear what it means. Does it mean that every political statement needs to accompanied with a disclaimer about who you plan to vote for?

1.6. Electoral laws and context norms

Use of social media platform for political advertisements shall be done in adherence to the electoral laws of Kenya

I don’t know what the law around this is so I’ll skip commenting on it.

2. Social Media Content

The following guidelines shall be observed while using social media platforms:

  1.  Correct identification is required when publishing political messages.
  2. All comments shall be polite, truthful and respectful.
  3. It shall be the responsibility of the Administrator of the social media platform to moderate and control the content and discussions generated on their platform
  4. Publishing of other person’s private information will not be published without their consent.
  5. Publishers of political content who are unsure whether their content is inflammatory or not, will liaise with the NCIC before publishing the content. NCIC shall respond to the publisher within 24 hours.
  6. Persons who knowingly spread inflammatory content shall be penalized according to the NCI Act, penal code and other relevant laws.

1. sounds like a real name requirement, which I think is nonsense. There are several reasons to use a pseudonym not least of which you don’t want your political affiliations to affect your business and personal relationships as it may be unpopular or negatively bias people against you. This rule will have a chilling effect on free speech and should be removed.

2. Once again the need to be respectful and this time polite too. Those words need to be dropped there’s no clear agreement on what they mean. In fact I’d go as far as saying they’re social constructs that vary depending on society and context. I’m reminded of the misuse of a communications device law that was so broad it was, ironically, misused to prosecute all kinds of things related to using the internet.

3. needs to be removed. It can not be a platform’s job to police the speech of their users, not because it can’t be done I believe it can, but because it tends to leads to broad restrictions that will definitely catch more legit speech than illegal, particularly in the context of these rules. It’s amusing that the NCIC which has failed to keep an eye of few thousand politicians thinks somehow Facebook, Twitter and other platforms can do the same for millions of users.

4. HEAR! HEAR! That is all.

5. There’s nothing wrong with this. I commend the NCIC for providing the service but I can’t help but wonder given the sheer volume if they have the capacity to deal with a number of possible queries

6. This has always been true. The NCIC has always had a problem prosecuting high profile social media, perhaps they’ve strengthened their capacity.


I’d like to end this post by saying that hate speech doesn’t happen in a vacuum, particularly hate speech that leads to violence; it depends on several factors. Research shows that online hate speech is only a reflection of conversations that are happening offline. I do hope that the NCIC is cognizant of this fact and tackle the issues on the ground instead of driving them further underground by being heavy handed online. Peace!!!