A report published last year revealed that up to 55% of Kenyans said that they’ve seen health information that is obviously false or untrue on social media. Mozilla has come out with new revelations that conversations surrounding reproductive health held over Twitter have been manipulated by CitizenGO, a Spain-based right-wing group.
CitizenGO spread health disinformation using over 240 Twitter accounts that amplified 10 hashtags into Twitter’s trending section for users in Kenya. This happened when Kenyans were having conversations over reproductive healthcare and surrogacy bills.
11 total campaigns (10 got featured on Twitter’s trending section in Kenya) and 20,811 tweets were examined between 2020 and 2021 using Twitter’s Firehose.
The disinformation campaigns attacked Kenyan politicians and activists who advocated for the Reproductive Healthcare Bill, the Surrogacy Bill, and reproductive rights.
The accounts posted false and misleading claims around surrogacy and other areas of reproductive health which were debunked by the African Population Health Research Center (APHRC).
“The research reveals how a right-wing European organization used Twitter to insert disinformation and inflammatory rhetoric into an important and nuanced regional conversation. It also reveals how Twitter lacks the cultural context, the staff, and the will to confront this problem,” said Nairobi-based Mozilla Fellow Odanga Madung.
He went ahead and warned that coordinated disinformation efforts will grow more severe as the country heads into this year’s elections slated for August.
Twitter reviewed the research and permanently suspended more than 240 accounts involved in the campaign.
Twitter has in recent years come under heavy criticism over its trending section that has become a haven for amplifying disinformation with critics saying that it needs to end trending topics. Bad actors game the algorithm to manipulate mainstream conversations by hashtag-jacking and their posts find their way to the trending section.
Disinformation experts are also calling for Twitter to perform moderation and curation at more meaningful levels.
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