As the electoral clock in Kenya “Tiks” - so does widespread disinformation stoking violent, ethnic discriminatory narratives

According to Mozilla Fellow Odanga Madung, this disinformation violates TikTok’s own policies yet reaches millions

Update: After reviewing the report, TikTok informed Mozilla on June 7, 2022 that it had taken down several videos and accounts highlighted by Madung

(NAIROBI, KENYA | WEDNESDAY, JUNE 8, 2022) Ahead of Kenya’s general election this August, Mozilla Fellow Odanga Madung has identified over 130 TikTok videos featuring hate speech, incitement, and other political disinformation.

Collectively, these videos have amassed millions of views, and many breach TikTok’s own terms of service, community guidelines, and policies.

Read the report:

From Dance App to Political Mercenary: How disinformation on TikTok gaslights political tensions in Kenya

Says Odanga Madung: “Kenya’s democracy carries a tainted past of post-election violence. Now, political disinformation on TikTok – in violation of the platform’s own policies – is stirring up this highly volatile political landscape. Meanwhile, TikTok has shown it is incapable of addressing this problem.”

Upon review of Madung’s report, TikTok’s spokesperson reported they have removed several videos and suspended several accounts from its platform.

Madung’s investigation also entails conversations with former TikTok moderators, among them TikTok whistleblower Gadear Ayed. The interviews reveal TikTok’s deep unfamiliarity with the Kenyan political context and may explain how most of these videos pass undetected.

According to Ayed, it was common practice for moderators to be assigned workstreams in unfamiliar contexts and language, at times having to rely only on images. Moderators are also under high pressure to meet daily targets, Ayed told Madung.

Says Gadear Ayed: “Sometimes the people moderating the platform don't know who the entities in the videos are, and therefore the videos can be left to spread due to lack of knowledge of context. It's common to find moderators being asked to moderate videos that were in languages and contexts that were different from what they understood.”

The 130 videos were linked to 33 TikTok accounts. Madung sourced the content using TikTok’s search function of popular political hashtags such as #siasa, #siasazaKenya, (“politics” and “Kenyan politics,” respectively), names of political candidates, key locations, political parties, and ethnic communities.

The investigation illustrates the following TikTok policy breaches:

  • Zero tolerance for hate speech and discriminatory content. Their policy outlines a clear stand against such content, stating: “TikTok is a diverse and inclusive community with no tolerance for discrimination. We do not permit content that contains hate speech or involves hateful behavior, and we remove it from our platform.”

    However, Madung found content on the platform which, in the context of Kenya’s electoral history, is problematic and could fall into the category of incitement and hate speech along ethnic lines. Much of the widely viewed content contained explicit threats of ethnic violence, often targeting members of particular ethnic communities, was uncovered by Madung — with some content getting over 445,000 views.

    Some videos also included coded language labeling some ethnic communities as “madoadoa”, which loosely translates to “stains”, but is a derogatory term used to categorize communities that do not support particular political ideologies or leaders.

    The Kenyan National Cohesion and Integration Commission considers the phrase “madoadoa” as hate speech and prosecutable, according to a public list released in April 2022, of 23 coded phrases and vernacular terms.

  • Content that incites hate or fear is prohibited. TikTok’s policies prohibit users from posting content that incites hate, prejudice, or fear. However, multiple grossly graphic and distasteful videos were identified on the platform and were allowed to thrive, suggesting that they may have been algorithmically amplified by the platform. One video containing images of political candidates in blood-stained clothes and wielding knives went undetected and was viewed at least 500,000 times.

  • Repetitive patterns of inauthenticity. TikTok’s policies “prohibit synthetic or manipulated content that misleads users by distorting the truth of events in a way that could cause harm.” Yet videos featured out-of-context material from international and local brands edited to foster false claims. Several manipulated pieces of content were identified on the platform and were widely viewed, like a fake Kenya Television Network (KTN) news bulletin with a fake opinion poll and dubbed narration; a video showing a fake Joe Biden tweet; a fake Netflix documentary with dubbed narration and various false newspaper covers. These videos garnered over 342,000 views on TikTok.

Press contacts:

Africa and Europe: Tracy Kariuki, [email protected]

North America: Kevin Zawacki, [email protected]