The fake news epidemic that sought to destabilize the democratic electoral process in the United States and France in recent months has reached Kenya and South Africa. According to a BBC report published in late July, a fraudulent video made to resemble Focus on Africa, a regular segment of the BBC World News television program, was released and distributed. The sham digital video presented phony surveys that suggested that the incumbent Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta had an advantage over opposition candidate Raila Odinga. Political analysts and statisticians in Kenya have, thus far, declared that the tight race is too close to call in favor of one candidate or the other, and it can be presumed that the counterfeit video was produced with the intention of pulling support away from Odinga.
A similarly bogus video imitating CNN’s production style was shared across social networks in Kenya days before the aforementioned BBC imposture. With the Kenyan elections about one week away, opinion polls have switched their attention towards the problematic issue of fake news. The real BBC quoted a survey conducted by polling firm Portland/GeoPoll, and the results revealed that many Kenyan voters feel that fake news are now more widespread than ever.
Fake Voter Bias Reported in South Africa
Kenya is not the only African nation affected by widespread fake news. In South Africa, a fake blogger used the Huffington Post’s online publishing platform to spread false rumors about a plan to pull caucasian males out of voting queues at certain precincts. The problem with the fake blog post, which was written by a sympathizer of an Afrikaner group, was that it was widely circulated and shared more than 50,000 times before it was deemed fake and even bordering on hate speech under South African law. In the end, the post was deemed to be worthy of free speech protections; however, a seed of concern was planted in relation to future elections.
Traditional News Media Versus Social Media in Africa
As one of the nations with the highest use of social media in the world, Kenyan media could potentially become very vulnerable to fake news. The problem is that Kenyan voters enjoy press freedom and have enjoyed the objectivity and integrity of established news media for more than a century. It is easy for Kenyans and anyone else in the world to convey a similar trust in social media, particularly when they see what looks like CNN and BBC reports shared on Facebook and Twitter.
As of yet, there have not been any links indicting foreign actors of interfering with African elections; this is not the case in the U.S. and France, two countries that suspect the involvement of Russian operatives working for the Kremlin.