Misinformation has become a major problem as social media enables rumour spreading at a speed that wasn’t possible in the pre-digital era. This was one of the factors that led to Tana Delta violence during 2012 and 2013. When Kenya was warming up to the general election, clashes killed nearly 170 people and displaced tens of thousands – leaving increased hatred and mistrust between the Orma and the Pokomo, the two most affected ethnic communities.
There is still no local media in the area. As this is how falsehoods flourish, a free mobile phone-based reporting information system has been set up as a rumour verification hotline, mapping and countering false misinformation on a day-to-day basis. Swahili for “Are you sure?” Una Hakika‘s motto is “amani huanza na ukweli”, which means “peace begins with the truth”.
Users report rumours to through SMS, phone calls, website, or to a trained community ambassador. They are verified via local authorities, NGOs, social media and mainstream media. Then the team reports back to the community whether the rumour is true or not.
The brainchild of Canada’s The Sentinel Project, the team even purpose-built WikiRumours software for moderating misinformation and disinformation: “Our goal is to use a combination of technology, the information service and training to create a lasting solution to the problem of rumours and misinformation,” Executive Director Christopher Tuckwood tells us. “This means encouraging people to be more sceptical and questioning of the information they hear by word of mouth.”
First met with scepticism themselves, by September 2015 Una Hakika was ranked as the third most trusted source of information behind radio and television in the Tana Delta, sometimes warning of potential violence before the police knew about it. Government officials can now synchronise efforts with the system, ensuring that they don’t waste time or resources reacting to falsehoods.
Una Hakika is expanding into other parts of Kenya ahead of the 2017 election. Then the plan is to grow into other countries such as Myanmar (Burma) and other violence-prone areas around the world.
Christopher Tuckwood, Executive Director, The Sentinel Project