Thursday, 13 December 2012

Why Social Media is a Threat to Peaceful Elections in Kenya

I know you take me to be a very pessimistic person due to that heading, a doomsayer in that matter for trying to argue out why social media could take this country back to 2007 PEV. FYI I love this country very much and peace is one of the things I pray for daily for this nation. A as a patriot I also think about things that could rob me off the peace, security, and all the good things that come with a stable society. 

Well, social media is one of the most powerful things that Kenyans currently have, can be used for good and bad! According to Social Bakers, we have around 2M Facebook users comprising of 64% male and 36 % female users, another survey ranked Kenya as the second most tweeting nation in Africa coming second to SA. In the past we have seen KOT (Kenyans on Twitter) come together for various good reasons, when we had the matatu strike our love for one another and creativity led to #CarpoolKE. Earlier on when MP’s want to hike their severance pay Robert Alai came up with #KOTagainstMpbonus and again we joined the movement which led to an actual public demo and a march to parliament. (We won) When doctors went on strike, #PeremendeMovement came in handy to help them air out their grievances and highlight the sad state in the health sector. (They won). Earlier on we had #KenyansForKenya, #KOT4Conje among other great initiatives on social media meant for the good of the society. 

However this week we have been treated to drama and a sad unfolding turn of events on social media after Caroline Mutoko posted something that didn’t augur well with her fans. Pages have been created by social media users who want to play the HEROES trying to save the girl who posted on her wall. This whole saga shows how Kenyans can be intolerant of another person’s opinions, rules and thoughts. For crying out loud, it’s her page so she deserves the right to express how she wants it managed and why would she want to tackle issues about Safaricom yet they have a page and a strong social media team that handles inquiries 18 hours a day? Are Kenyan youths that idle as Caroline Mutoko put it? Yes we could since one of those pages against Mutoko has around 30,000 likes as I write this. Why would one want to join such a community? What content do you find useful and valuable on such a page? The admin/s of those must be feeling really nice having attracted such a big audience in a short time as they play the heroes! Such people definitely can put their skills and time into better use as companies are in dire need of human resource that can help them manage and monitor their brands on new media as well as engage their communities across social networking platforms. We all have different objectives on social media; we create and share a variety of content as we engage, respond to and interact with other social media users. I am not trying to lay out rules on what one should do on social media, however as we engage and interact on these platforms let us remember to be ethical and responsible as the content we create and share affects others in one way or another. 

As we approach the March 2013 social media will play a big role in the general elections, as it might be misused by politicians or people with selfish interests and agenda to incite Kenyans and spread propaganda. We’ve witnessed Twitter handles that called for killing of Christians in the riots in Mombasa and with anonymity that comes with social media, tracking such fellows may be difficult or take time to arrest, prosecute and punish but I believe this shouldn’t be the approach we should take with such content creators and social media users in the elections period. We have to be more proactive and avert possible disaster before it happens. 

I came up with three possible scenarios that could happen in 2013; forgive me of you find this very pessimistic,
Currently we are in the pre-elections phase, we are currently discussing alliances, coalition partners, presidential candidates, the implications of bad leadership and all that on social media. As at now people haven’t really taken stands and made them clear however we tweet on how we need good leaders, better roads, less corruptions as we urge one another to go register as voters. Good! Blogs aren’t that hard hitting however tribal posts on social media are on the rise as people seek to ‘push and sell’ their ideal candidates. Come January, we should have an opinion poll which will arouse serious heat on social media. Here pages come up “Stop Uhuru Kenyatta”, “1Million Kenyans against ICC suspects” “Hatutaki Vitendawili, STOP RAILA” are some of the pages I foresee! We’ll see radicals coming up and fake social media accounts will increase. As these pages Kenyans of good faith will form “1M Kenyans against STOP UHURU KENYATTA Page” et’;al and we shall discuss this for a while, ask people not to like such tribal pages and their numbers will increase due to the massive PR we give them, arouse more talkability around such communities resulting to more virality and thus inform more people who in turn end up joining these pages! Do you remember Campus Divas for rich men? How do you think such pages attract 15,000 likes in hours? Because we all talk about them as we urge others not to join! Brace yourself for that next year! Around end of February, we shall see more ‘tabloids’ that report plans to rig elections, see images of rallies and gatherings that turned violent and with the rise of social TV where we discuss all we consume on mainstream media social media at this point will be heated up. 

This is the day of election, what’s likely to happen here? We’ll all be somewhere, seeing how Kenyans are voting; right? We’ll witness cases of voter bribery first hand, take photos and SHARE on social media. If there’s any violence anywhere, photos will be shared and we’ll pick up on them Retweet them, Share, comment and basically pass them on. With the BVR kits we expect some people to come vote only to be told ‘they voted’, others may miss from the system among other things. Party agents, IEBC clerks and voters will be able to broadcast whatever is happening on the ground as it happens for others to pick up on it. The media too will be on the ground to fill us up on what’s happening elsewhere. God forbid we shouldn’t witness cases of violence in parts of the country as that will send fear country wide. If people of community A in region B see their tribesmen in region C being attacked by people of Community B then that could spark retaliatory attacks! The danger here is we shall be getting this information live as it happens through social media and pass it on to our communities (friends, followers) on social media instantly! Here we’ll also turn to SMS to communicate with our friends and assure them of our safety as we inform them of the latest on our end, calls too will be made and TV & radio will broadcast the rest. No much will happen here, however should there be some violence, missing names on IEBC list, bribery, some plans to rig elections and all that plans will be made here! 

Am thinking IEBC will be tallying votes electronically so we shall know how who is leading where as votes come in. However due to social media and ‘people on the ground’ that information will be broadcasted in real time as counting begins. Remember all these are preliminary results and not verified, however if there’s too much disparity from the expected outcome then Kenyans will turn to social media to vent out and analyse possible causes of that disparity! We shall also witness people saying tribe A betrayed alliance B and thus led to outcome C which may also cause issues that could destabilize the nation. I am sure you are asking how all this leads to war, the power of social media could lead to this, supported by SMS messages, calls, word of mouth and the media. In 2007 the smses fueled the PEV however next year this could be worse as we are talking about a medium that isn’t controlled, forces ill equipped to monitor and track conversations and most dangerous being the YOU and ME who will create, share or transmit unverified, false, content full of hate and propaganda on social media. That is how we can easily get back to 07/08! If 0.5M active Facebook users consume hate content, false and unverified data or information and then pass it on via sms and word of mouth to three people who do the same to another 3 then that could be dangerous! 



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