Kenya Decides 2022: Meta’s Efforts to Promote Election Integrity on Its Platforms

Mercy Ndegwa, Director Public Policy East and Horn of Africa, Meta
Mercy Ndegwa, Director Public Policy East and Horn of Africa, Meta

Kenya is heading towards its elections set for August 9th this year where its citizens will vote in county-level, legislative and presidential elections.

A civic engagement of this magnitude will have increased online activity as netizens try to keep up and Meta is ramping up efforts to promote election integrity on its platforms including WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook.

The tech giant started this process in June last year and has drawn lessons from supporting over 200 elections globally including African countries like Zambia, South Africa, Ethiopia, Tanzania, The Gambia, Ghana, Senegal and the just concluded elections in France.

Meta’s dedicated teams have also been working closely with elections authorities and trusted partners in countries facing elections to customize its strategies and take appropriate steps to stay ahead of emerging threats and make sure it is prepared long before people cast their votes.

Meta is working with key electoral government bodies including relevant ministries and agencies such as IEBC.

Meta has created a cross-functional team spread across the world that is dedicated to the Kenyan elections, which includes Kenyans and people who have spent significant amounts of time in the country as the local context is important. The team also includes individuals with global expertise in topics like misinformation, hate speech, elections and disinformation. These teams are working to prevent any abuse of Meta’s services before, during and after Kenya’s 2022 general election. Locally, Meta shared that they have permanent staff who reside in Kenya and work in the public policy programmes, communications and product teams.

Through the guidance of Meta’s community standards, the company will prioritize the safety of users on its platforms. The standards define what is and isn’t allowed on its platforms in order to keep people safe, while also protecting free expression. Meta shares that they have made $16 billion investment in teams and technology doing this work with $5 billion spent on safety and security. Meta has about 40,000 people working on these issues.

The same standards will be applied to political figures as well as regular profiles.

Meta says that they will temporarily reduce the distribution of content from individuals who have repeatedly or severely violated its policies so few people see this type of problematic content going viral and potentially inciting violence or hatred ahead, during and after the elections.

On WhatsApp, Meta has limited the number of people you can forward a message to just one chat at once. There are the added “forwarded” and “highly forwarded” labels to highlight when something has been shared multiple times. Meta says that this has resulted in a 70% reduction in the number of highly forwarded messages on WhatsApp.

Meta has partnered up with International Fact-Checking Network certified fact-checkers in Kenya including AFP, Africa Check and PesaCheck to fight the spread of misinformation on its platforms in Kenya to review and rate potentially false content on its platforms, label it, and place it lower in the feed, so fewer people see it. Meta adds that they are careful not to limit political speech since the company has a fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and the belief that political speech is the most scrutinized speech there is. 

Meta opposes internet shutdowns

Meta is focusing on English and Swahili language and engaging with trusted civic partners to monitor other local languages.

Meta is using a three-prong approach to reduce the spread of misinformation which includes removing, reducing and informing. They remove content(200 million pieces of content removed so far), reduce distribution by placing these types of content lower in the news feed and informing by adding friction including placing labels and prompts. Meta says that these features reduce misinformation being shared on the platform.

Meta has shared tools and resources that will provide more information about political advertising on Facebook and Instagram ahead of the Kenya 2022 general elections. Meta is aiming to enhance transparency in political advertising to help people know who is behind the political ads they see on Facebook and Instagram while equipping political advertisers with key resources to reach and engage their supporters and potential voters throughout the election period. 

These ads are labelled with a disclaimer, so you can see who paid for them and stored them in Facebook’s public Ads Library for seven years so that everyone can see what ads are running, what types of people saw them and how much was spent. Facebook also offer controls so that people in Kenya can choose not to see any of these political ads which run with a disclaimer. 

Meta will suspend Political ads running on Facebook on 6th August in Kenya.

Meta, through its specialized teams, is working to stop coordinated inauthentic behaviour where sophisticated networks of Pages, Groups and accounts are used to try and manipulate public debate. Since 2017, Meta says that they have removed over 150 networks around the world for coordinated inauthentic behaviour including ahead of major elections around the world. Meta has tripled the number of people who work on security and safety issues overall to more than 40,000, including security experts, AI and machine learning engineers, and content reviewers.

To promote civic engagement and let Kenyans have accurate information about how and when to vote through its platforms, Meta will have an “I Voted” sticker on Instagram in Kenya and on the day of the election and with the elections day reminder on Facebook to remind Kenyans that it’s time to vote with a notification on top of their News Feed.

Meta adds that it’s supporting digital literacy in Kenya through partnerships in programs such as “My Digital World” to improve digital and media literacy and raise awareness amongst the youth, teachers, parents, guardians on topics such as online safety, privacy, digital citizenship, news and media literacy delivered through live instructor-led and in-person/hybrid sessions.

The company has partnered up with iEARN Kenya to support teachers and parents by providing training sessions with the aim of equipping them with the knowledge, skills and competencies necessary to guide their learners on how to navigate the digital world responsibly and safely.

Meta says that as part of its elections integrity work, they shall educate the public on how to identify and not share hate speech and misinformation on our platforms through online ads on Facebook and by running radio ads on national and vernacular radio stations.

“We know we have an important responsibility when it comes to helping people participate in elections and to ensure safe, secure, and free elections,” says Mercy Ndegwa, Meta Public Policy Director for East Africa and Horn of Africa.

“Using lessons from the past and input from experts and policymakers across the political spectrum, we’ve made substantial investments in people and technology to reduce misinformation, remove harmful content on our platforms, fight voter interference and promote civic engagement during the elections,“ she concludes.

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