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Facebook is worried about fake news in Kenya’s election

by Tim Hume
Aug 4 2017, 1:22pm

Facebook has unveiled a feature to help users in Kenya spot fake news ahead of Tuesday’s high-stakes general election. It’s the latest effort from the social media giant to combat a raft of bogus reports circulating in the buildup to Kenya’s contentious vote.

The educational tool will appear at the top of Kenyan users’ News Feed, providing tips in English and Swahili on how to identify fake stories in the final days before President Uhuru Kenyatta faces off against his main challenger, longtime rival Raila Odinga.

Fake news has emerged as a major concern in the campaign, with fake pro-Kenyatta reports purporting to be from CNN, BBC and Transparency International. And according to a recent poll, those fake reports are spreading far and wide: 87 percent of respondents said they had encountered fake stories.

The stakes are high, with all parties eager to avoid the bloodshed that followed the 2007 election, when more than 1,000 people were killed and 600,000 displaced in months of political violence after Odinga claimed the vote had been rigged. On Monday, Christopher Chege Musando, a senior election official overseeing the vote count, was announced dead — his body was found just outside of Nairobi on Saturday. Musando’s colleagues say he was tortured and murdered.

Kenyans are among Africa’s most active social media users — with nearly 90 percent of the population accessing the internet through their phones — and social media is expected to play a defining role in the campaign. A key indication of this is the Kenyatta team’s hiring of Cambridge Analytica, a “big data” company used by the Trump presidential campaign and credited with helping the victorious “Leave” campaign in Britain’s E.U. referendum.

Polls point to a tight race between the two frontrunners, with neither currently predicted to reach the target of 50 percent– plus one, which is required to win outright.

If neither reaches that target, the election will go to a two-way runoff for the first time in Kenya’s history. Observers are hoping the race will be contested without accusations of dirty tricks.