Agency creates ‘hate’ reporting web portal

Hate speech has become a major challenge for Kenyan authorities. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH
Hate speech has become a major challenge for Kenyan authorities. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH 

The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) has turned to crowdsourcing to keep tabs on hate speech in the country.

With the re-run of the presidential election to take place on October 17, attention is fast turning on various social media platforms and what information they purvey.

Hate speech has become a key challenge as authorities grapple with tracing its source, while citizens lack systems to report on them.

“The proliferation and increased use of social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube has increased the speed at which hate speech spreads,” said NCIC legal officer Mwengi Kyalo.

The web portal, which is in the final stages of completion, seeks to promote speedy information gathering and resolution of complaints raised by the public.

“This will help in the effective regulation of online content and in curbing the spread of messages that are likely to cause violence and conflict in the country,” he said.

Isaac Munya, NCIC head of ICT, told Digital Business that the platform will allow users to log in and share audio recordings, video clips and links to websites or social media platforms deemed to be enhancing hate speech.

“And once the information hits our platform, a notification is immediately sent to the situation room where our investigators can immediately act on them.”

Currently, people seeking to reach out to the commission do so through its website, physical visits, phone calls, letters and social media platforms.

The information then goes to a central physical place (in case of letters) or an online location (like email in-boxes) before being forwarded to relevant departments for appropriate action. “This usually causes delays which we’re keen on eliminating with the new platform,” Mr Munya noted.

He said that the portal’s storage capacity is unlimited and will thus allow users to upload ‘‘heavy’’ content should the need arise.

“We don’t want space to be a barrier in the public’s attempt to report incidences that threaten to cause disharmony in the country.” Due to the sensitive nature of complaints handled by the commission, Mr Munya said, the portal has been fitted with advanced security features to prevent hacking and keep away ‘‘outsiders’’ who may seek to tamper with collected information such as video evidence of hate speech which is useful for prosecuting offenders.

For ease of use, the portal has also been made compatible with both computers and mobile phones.

“In future we plan to develop a mobile phone app that will make it even more user-friendly,” he said.

According to Grace Bomu, Associate at the Kenya ICT Action Network (Kictanet), regulation alone cannot provide a long term solution against hate speech.

Ms Bomu said that Kenyans need to embrace national values that will encourage respect for one another irrespective of their different beliefs. She said that people need to take personal responsibility of content they post online.

“Always think of the impact. And ensure you verify information before forwarding it to other people.” Alex Gakuru, Content Development and Intellectual Property Trust Executive Director, said that regulation of online content is a tricky affair since a balance has to be made between freedom of speech and what is considered as hate speech.

“Emotions such as hate are really hard to regulate. A person may just be airing their opinion while another chooses to view that as hate speech. So where do you draw the line?”

He recommended that Kenya comes up with local constructive solutions to effectively tackle hate speech perpetuated through online platforms like other countries are doing.

In Germany, for instance, parliament recently passed a law forcing social media sites to take down illegal and slanderous content or face a fine of up to Sh5.9 billion.

But those opposing the law said that it is likely to stifle free expression since social media firms may become overly strict and ban legal expression of ideas. NCIC’s new portal, set to be launched by November, will provide Kenyans with a one-stop-platform for airing complaints using various multi-media approaches.