3 Things We Discovered From 3 Months of Investigating Fake News in Kenya
1. Mainstream News Trumps Fake News
In the three months that we tracked fake news stories from hyper-partisan groups, we clearly noticed that on Facebook, links from mainstream news sites were experiencing much more consumption than those from fake news sites. This trend was even more pronounced during party nominations in April, with mainstream sources getting even more attention than fake news. This could mean that in pivotal times of the democratic process, Kenyans turn to more traditionally trusted sources of information.
2. Opposition Consumes More Fake News
Both sides seem to have fake news stories being released at relatively similar rates. However, more outrightly false stories seem to be released for opposition-leaning groups. This is in line with existing theories of fake news consumption which state that opposition groups are more likely to consume fake news than government-leaning groups.
3. The Top Five
Our research reveals that 4 out of the top 5 fake news articles we monitored were opposition-leaning in nature. Although this speaks to the source of such articles, it doesn’t mean that the articles were consumed solely by opposition-leaning audiences, but by government supporters as well. Research shows that people with strong views on a topic tend to consume content that opposes said views, not in an effort to keep an open mind, but rather to keep an eye on what their opposition is up to (otherwise called hate watching).
- Social media remains the dominant source of fake news stories. However, Whatsapp plays a key role in mass distribution of these stories. Besides being more pervasive than any social network in Kenya, Whatsapp is also fast, simple, and much more intimate compared to say Facebook or Twitter. These factors rapidly increase a fake news story’s persuasive power. In many ways, Whatsapp may be the biggest problem that Kenyans have when it comes to fake news.
- Data collection is still ongoing and one thing we are already seeing is that the severity of fake news is rapidly increasing. The final stretch of elections often leads to the politicization of many issues and this creates a ripe environment for the spread of fake news. Hence, it is expected that Kenyans will more susceptible to fake news as election day approaches.
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