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Clarity On Verified Kenyan Twitter Accounts Spreading Disinformation

The report revealed that those high-profile accounts are being hired out to coordinate attacks on journalists, judges, and other members of civil society, with Twitter itself accused of doing very little to stop it.

A recent report by the Mozilla Foundation uncovered the brazen world of Kenyans using verified Twitter accounts to spread disinformation across the country’s online space.

The report revealed that those high-profile accounts are being hired out to coordinate attacks on journalists, judges, and other members of civil society, with Twitter itself accused of doing very little to stop it.

The report released on Thursday, September 2 revealed that influencers operating under the guise of verified accounts are being paid roughly between Ksh1,000 and Ksh1,500 ($10-$15) to participate in three disinformation campaigns a day. The payment is remitted to the influencers through mobile money platforms.

A person using Twitter on his phone. /BBC

The agencies also hire the verified tweeps to raid Twitter’s trending algorithms to further amplify their campaigns containing unfounded assertions, spiteful content, and propaganda material under selected hashtags.

“The platform allows malicious actors to run sock puppet accounts, create malicious content, generate fake engagement, and ultimately hijack Twitter’s very own trending algorithm. As a result, millions of Kenyans are being manipulated on Twitter,” read the report in part.

The report also revealed that the verified accounts are being used like puppets on a string to manipulate the opinions of Kenyans by propagating disinformation amongst the public.

“This research provides a window into the booming and shadowy industry of Twitter influencers for political hire in Kenya. This industry’s main goal is to sway public opinion during elections and protests, especially with regard to Kenya’s ongoing constitutional review process, the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI),” the report continues.

One of the influencers as indicated in the report explained a complex system of using WhatsApp groups to coordinate and synchronize tweets and messaging.

Anonymous organizers use these groups to send influencers cash, content, and detailed instructions regarding the campaigns.

“No longer focusing on just broad issues and events, disinformation campaigns are increasingly identifying and targeting individuals, like members of the Linda Katiba movement and the Kenyan judiciary. This work is also beginning to border on incitement and advocacy of hatred, which is against Kenyan Law,” continued the report.

Another influencer claimed that the users owning the coveted “blue tick” accounts will often rent them out to propagate disinformation in the campaigns, with the verified accounts improving the chances of the campaign trending. The owner of the account usually ends up receiving part of the loot.

To verify their claims, Viral Tea spoke to a few journalists and owners of blue tick accounts, who confirmed that the vice is commonplace, despite a journalist’s duty to provide credible, fair, and truthful information to the public.

“Yes, we are credible but more often than not we are players in the entire ecosystem. Because we are fast to share information without verifying,” stated one.

The digital journalism field is one that requires accuracy as well as speed in reporting on events, and journalists that might be new to the fast-growing field at times might rush too quickly regarding the breaking of news on important events, thus making errors in terms of facts.

“We’ve been taught to verify quickly, and at times with the speed in which news happens, we might get a bunch of things wrong,” added Viral Tea‘s digital journalist and Managing Director Marvin Chege.

To avert this, the following solutions are commonplace:

  1. Trackback RTs (retweets) among others to source
  2. Look for clusters
  3. Check if the location is enabled
  4. Evaluate the network
  5. Evaluate the history
  6. Check links as well as photos
  7. Take it old school (5Ws and H in journalism)
  8. Disclose, hedge, repeat
  9. Be brave only in correction.

Twitter was also put on the spot over the report which alleged that the organization was doing very little to fix the situation which has risen to dangerous levels.

However, the app affirmed that it removed 100 accounts found to be violating the platform’s manipulation and spam policy.

“Removal of the badge based on repeated violations will be assessed on a case-by-case basis and is not automatic. Please note, we may suspend accounts that use imagery of, or similar to, the Verification badge in a manner that may mislead the public about the account’s Verification status,” revealed the platform in its statement.

How to apply for the prized Twitter blue badge. /TWITTER 

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Marvin Chege
About author: Digital journalist and managing director with a passion for writing captivating stories. Marvin is a young scribe, a social media, sports, gaming junkie and realist who specialises in viral news, multimedia and investigative storytelling.

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