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Kenyan Influencers Paid To Take 'Guerrilla Warfare Online - BBC

Published by Nairaland on Mon, 13 Sep 2021

<blockquote><b>Confronting harassment by Kenyan Twitter influencers - recently revealed to have been paid to promote misinformation - is akin to dealing with guerrilla warfare</b>, admits an activist involved in a legal battle to stop a change to the constitution.<br><br><b>&quot;It is waged against you until it tires you out,&quot; Daisy Amdany told the BBC about the Twitter attacks those behind the court case have faced.<br></b><br>The mudslinging led one activist to opt out of the campaign and <b>&quot;at least three people have taken a break because of the level of insults and misinformation that they have encountered&quot;, she said.</b><br><br>Ms Amdany was reacting to a report by the non-profit Mozilla Foundation - Inside the shadowy world of disinformation for hire in Kenya - which makes startling reading.<br><br>It shows how <b>shadowy financers have deployed an army of Twitter influencers to co-ordinate disinformation campaigns in favour of a government-backed constitution amendment bill</b>, known as the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).<br><br><b>Hashtag heist</b><br><br>According to the research conducted between May and June 2021, <b>they were paid to directly harass and discredit journalists, judges and civil activists on Twitter.</b><br><br>It is not a surprise that Twitter was targeted given the East African nation has one of Africa's loudest and most engaged internet communities, collectively known as Kenyans on Twitter (#KoT).<br><br><br>The research showed the disinformation business to be lucrative, <b>with influencers for political hire paid roughly between $10 (7) and $15 to participate in three campaigns per day. Some influencers managed to reach retainer level and were paid about $250 per month.</b><br><br>Payments were made directly to their phones through the mobile money platform M-Pesa.<br><br>Influencers interviewed refused to reveal who was paying them, but one told the researchers that sometimes the money came before the campaign and sometimes afterwards.<br><br><b>Those behind the campaigns used WhatsApp groups to send influencers content and detailed instructions.<br><br>They were told to promote tags - trending on Twitter was the primary target by which most of them were judged.</b><br><br>The aim was to trick people into thinking that the opinions trending were popular - the equivalent to &quot;paying crowds to show up at political rallies&quot;, the research says.<br><br><b>Accounts deactivated</b><br><b>Twitter is also alleged to have profited by placing adverts on the disinformation campaigns.<br><br>An agency that sells Twitter adverts in Kenya offers promoted trends for $3,500 per day, the report says</b>.<br><br>&quot;While we weren't able to independently confirm the tweet-for-pay activity described in your report, we could confirm the presence of at least one network of co-ordinated accounts,&quot; Twitter said in response.<br><br><b>About 100 accounts run by Kenyan Twitter influencers have now been deactivated by the tech giant for violating its platform manipulation and spam policy.<br><br>The waves of attacks launched against the judges were intended to discredit their independence, using hashtags including #AnarchistJudges, #JudiciaryRevenge, #JudicialPayback and #Justice4Sale.</b><br><br>An average of at least one disinformation campaign every two days was uncovered during the period before and after the High Court ruling in May.<br><br>The judges found the BBI proposal to be irregular, illegal and unconstitutional, a decision upheld by the Appeals Court in August - although the battle continues as the attorney general is challenging the ruling at the Supreme Court.<br><br>It all started on Twitter with photo-shopped images about those behind the bid to block BBI, who argued that the process used to implement the changed was flawed and unconstitutional.<br><br>&quot;They talked about how we don't care about peace,&quot; explained Ms Amdany, who was among those who launched the Linda Katiba Movement (which in Swahili means &quot;Protect the Constitution&quot<img src="https://www.nairaland.com/faces/wink.png" alt="wink" border="0" class="faces"> in February.<br><br><b>&quot;That we're foreign agents paid to destabilise the nation or [we're] people who are not accountable, the evil society, noisemakers, loudmouths.<br><br>&quot;A lot of it is used to mobilise hatred and cast aspersions on the intent and character of the people driving any particular campaign.&quot;</b><br><br>Activists were also portrayed as being funded by Deputy President William Ruto - a key opponent of BBI.<br><br>Some of the accounts used suggestive pictures of women as profile pictures to bait men into following them.<br><br><b>Fears for democracy</b><br><br>The Mozilla Foundation report found little evidence that the disinformation drive actually swayed people's opinions on the BBI court proceedings.<br><br>However, <b>the hired influencers have managed to scare away critical voices from the debate on Twitter, with civil activists saying they now self-censor on the platform.<br></b><br>&quot;What was once <b>a place where one could have some semblance of a healthy discussion on topics has now been completely poisoned. Dissenting voices will often find that an entire army of bots will sit in your mentions should you voice your opinions,&quot; one activist was quoted as saying.</b><br><br>Ms Amdany agrees - deciding to delete her personal Twitter account a while back because of trolls - though the women's rights organisation she heads, Crawn Trust, remains on Twitter.<br><br>There are fears these tactics could have repercussions ahead of elections scheduled for August 2022.<br><br>Deadly violence has marred previous elections but Twitter had been an area that has allowed political debate to flourish.<br><br><b>&quot;Twitter could have blood on its hands for what they allowed to fester within their platform,&quot; the study warns.<br></b><br>Social media expert Samuel Kamau agrees things have changed.<br><br> &quot;Initially, social media was a force for good in revitalising democracy,&quot; he told the BBC.<br><br>&quot;But in time, people have learnt how to use it to manipulate public opinion. The question now is whether social media is good for democracy.&quot;<br><br>For Brian Obilo, the co-author of the report, one solution could be for Twitter to pause trends during key times such as elections.<br><br>&quot;Twitter could also employ human moderators in multiple countries to review trends before they make it to the top of the trending topics section,&quot; he told the BBC.</blockquote><br><br><a rel=ugc href="https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-58474936">https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-58474936</a>
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