- ALT Advisory and the Yale Law School Lowenstein Clinic have published a new report on combatting online ethnic-based hate speech in Kenya.
- The report provides the findings of a research project conducted in 2023 to interrogate the prevalence, causes, and potential mitigants to online ethnic-based hate speech in Kenya, and to define recommendations for a more effective human rights-based response.
- The research draws on legal and policy analysis, and interviews and consultations with local stakeholders in Nairobi, Kenya.
As the prevalence of hate speech rises around the world, particularly spread through online and social media platforms, more concerted and effective action is needed to counter its severe consequences. Online hate speech can cause, for example, frayed public trust and social belonging, populist and polarised politics, and even violent extremism. Hate speech is parasitic on existing disparities within society, often targeting the most vulnerable and undermining efforts toward social progress.
In the Kenyan context, surges of hate speech have preceded key moments of violence and political conflict, especially during recent elections. In the run-up to the post-election violence in 2007 and 2008, inciting language was broadcast via radio stations, television programmes, and over mobile phones; in the 2013 elections, human rights actors noted the propagation of hate speech mostly through online mediums. Against this backdrop of rapid digitisation in a pluralist society, ethnically motivated online hate speech is a barrier to the equal enjoyment of human rights in the digital era in the country.
In 2023, students from the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School and ALT Advisory conducted joint research on the prevalence, causes, and potential mitigants to online ethnic-based hate speech in Kenya. The research drew on legal and policy analysis and an in-country stakeholder consultation process in Nairobi.
The research found that despite laudable efforts by local civil society to combat hate speech online, there has been a rise in online hate speech driven particularly by politicians and political operatives during elections that are increasingly reliant on online campaigning. This interacts with the power of multinational technology firms which own the dominant social media platforms, and their often opaque processes of content moderation, which ultimately leads to impunity for online hate speech.
To address this, change is needed in several domains to create an environment conducive to preventing the use of hate speech and its associated harms:
- The Kenyan government must align its domestic laws with internationally recognised standards, including reserving the use of criminal sanctions for online speech as a last resort in extreme cases.
- Government, civil society, and the private sector must work to build digital literacy for the general public, particularly around consuming and creating online content.
- Domestic regulators, notably the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), must be strengthened through broader mandates and better resourcing, and coordination must be improved between government, regulators, and civil society.
- The government must take steps to restart broader transitional justice initiatives, such as victim reparation programs and truth-telling processes, to address the underlying issues of resource distribution and ethnic-based governance.
- There is a need for an African regional framework to address online hate speech and a regional mechanism for collective action against social media companies.
- Social media firms must take steps to improve online content moderation by establishing transparent decision-making with faster response times and a professional, well-resourced local staff of content moderators.
Access the full report here:
Authored by Porter Nenon (’23), Anuj Chand (‘23), Ram Dolom (‘23), and Negin Shahiar (‘24) — students of the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic during the research period — in collaboration with S’lindile Khumalo and Wendy Trott of ALT Advisory, a public research and advisory firm based in South Africa comprised of public interest lawyers, researchers, and technologists working for positive social change. Claudia Flores, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Lowenstein Clinic, supervised the report.
The authors are grateful for the generous inputs and time of key informants and experts in Kenya that enriched the report.
Featured image credit: Aidah Namukose / ALT Advisory (CC BY-NC-ND)