An estimated 86 percent of Kenyans have encountered and inadvertently shared false and inaccurate information on social media platforms, a new study shows, highlighting the growing challenges users face on such platforms.
This could be in the form of entirely fabricated content created to intentionally disinform for revenue or influence or to whip up emotions with some 83.2 per cent of Kenyans indicating that they have seen biased and deliberately misleading information on social media.
The survey by the Social Media Lab Africa (SIMElab Africa) at the United States International University Africa (USIU-Africa), also reveals that about 83.5 per cent of Kenyans on social media have come across fake news on social media, and are likely to have shared the same.
“The widespread dissemination of the fake news on social media has been precipitated by a lack of tools for verifying photos and videos, or for quickly checking the sources of the stories when they appear on an individual’s Facebook feed, Twitter timeline, YouTube playlist or any other posts on social networking pages,” says the survey report.
The report draws from a nationally representative survey of social media consumption patterns among different demographic segments, conducted between February and March.
The survey sampled 9,740 respondents aged between 14 and 55 in 17 counties drawn from Kenya’s former eight administrative provinces – Nairobi, Coast, Central, Western, Nyanza, Eastern, Rift Valley, and North Eastern.
According to the report, 28.3 per cent of users say they find misleading and biased information on social media frequently with just 16.8 per cent of social media users reporting they have never seen any deliberately misleading information, but 54.9 per cent find this kind of information occasionally.
About 81 percent of Kenyans indicate that they have seen negative news on social media and are likely to have shared it, with 28 per cent saying that they do find negative news on social media frequently, while 53 per cent see such news occasionally.
Philip Ogolla, the founder of Digital Humanitarian, says that fake individuals, who want to be first to break news, spread the fake news with some of them going to the extent of creating screenshots and fake quotes.
“I know some families affected by coronavirus who no longer go online or visit social media sites, because of the misinformation around the pandemic,” he notes.
Most people fail to check the source of the information that they view on social media before sharing it, which can lead to fake news going viral.
“The only way to stop spreading misinformation, disinformation, and fake news is for social media users to stop sharing it. However, the situation is worsened by the use of social media bots or artificial social media profiles,” says Mr Ogolla.
Social media bots are easily built using artificial intelligence algorithms to spread inaccuracies and falsehoods online. They are common on Twitter where they are known for tweeting fake news items, and replying to or commenting on the posts of real social media users.
With Twitter’s deep learning algorithm prioritising content with greater engagement rather than recent tweets, it is easier to spread fake news through the bots as they will keep replying to content that has already received a lot of retweets and mentions, automatically.
The survey also discloses that social media harassment is becoming increasingly common. and with technology eliminating the traditional borders, perpetrators of social media-facilitated crimes could be miles away from the victim.
Social media crimes usually have dreadful real-world impacts on victims — 61.3 per cent of social media users in urban areas have experienced severe online harassment compared to 38.7 per cent of their rural counterparts.
‘More severe’ harassment includes physical threats, stalking, sustained harassment and sexual harassment on social media, while ‘less severe’ denotes negative online experience such as abusive behaviour, offensive name-calling, body shaming, bullying and impersonation.
Some people have opted to remove their social media profiles in hopes of avoiding online harassment.
“Forty per cent of social media users aged 21-25 years old and 32 per cent of those aged 26-35 years have personally experienced the ‘less severe’ forms of online harassment,” the study shows.
Still, online harassment is more common among the residents of low-income areas (47.6 per cent) in Nairobi than those living in the middle-income (28.5 per cent) and high-income (23.9 per cent) areas.
More than 38 per cent of social media users aged 21-25 have experienced the ‘more severe’ forms of online harassment, followed by 26-35-year-olds at 33.6 per cent, 36-45 year-olds at 12.4 per cent, 14-20 year-olds at 11 per cent and 46 years and above at 4.6 per cent.
Besides, 53.5 per cent of men and 46.4 per cent of women indicate that they have experienced online harassment, including physical threats, stalking and sexual harassment on social media.
While most Kenyans access social media using mobile apps, privacy remains a critical concern and that is pushing more users to prefer using mobile browsers, which are presumed to offer more privacy features than standalone apps.
Even though the cost of Internet in Kenya is among the cheapest in Africa, the average cost of access has remained relatively high, making social media access generally unaffordable to many Kenyans.
Kenya is seventh in Africa in the Internet affordability index, second in terms of speed but with the highest smartphone penetration rate, according to the World Bank Digital Report of 2019.
“This could be the reason why 54.3 per cent of people living in urban areas access social media from free public hotspots, while 46.1 per cent of the people living in rural areas access social media from the cybercafés and most of the people aged 25 and above access social media from offices.”
Social media Big Data mining is happening on Twitter, with organisations searching for information they can use for proper decision-making.
The use of pseudonyms in some social and political roles can enrich online interactions by enabling unfiltered online conversations. Most influencers use their real names to stand out from the crowd.
According to the study 57.8 per cent of men have used pseudonyms in online conversations compared to 42.1 per cent of women.
“Our society is conservative, often making it ‘unsafe’ for netizens to make absolute statements or hold unpopular opinions. Thus, in our context, anonymity has been used as a tool to break out of our conservative shells,” says Immaculate Tallam of SIMElab.
There is rising addiction to social media due to the high number of sports betting apps that place several ads on the platforms, based on the betting search history of users.
“Social media addiction is notably visible among Kenyan youth, especially college and university students. Internet gambling and social media addiction have been gradually increasing,” says Augustine Kihiko of the University of KwaZulu Natal.
In Kenya, the survey shows that extroverts appear to use social media tools for enhancement while their introvert counterparts use them for social compensation.
“WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube have maintained majority share in markets in Africa, but there are several other networks gaining interest. Pinterest, Snapchat, Twitch, TikTok are just a few that are catching up. These networks bring added value to users by focusing on niche elements,” says Ashleigh Jacobs, Hootsuite Africa product manager.
A critical finding of the study is that Kenyans are now ditching Facebook in favour of TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram, in a global seismic shift towards abandoning the world’s most popular social network. However, WhatsApp remains the most popular app, with 89 per cent of smartphone owners using it.
Compared to 2019, the report shows that the number of Facebook daily users declined by 6.8 per cent while that of Snapchat users has increased by 17.3 per cent. Twitter users have soared by 13.4 per cent while Instagram users grew by 7.2 per cent.
Facebook, according to Edison Research, has lost more than 15 million users in the United States alone in the past three years, with the decline being sharper among younger users.
The SIMElab Africa survey says TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram are attracting more users, at 63 per cent, 67 per cent and 61 per cent respectively.
Netizens aged 14-20 are much more likely to use Snapchat, TikTok and Pinterest while those aged 21-25 use Instagram, Snapchat and Telegram.
Users aged 26-35 are more active on the professional network LinkedIn, Skype and Twitter where they avoid using pseudo names. People in this age group seek to establish their careers.
Those aged 36-45 mostly use Facebook and WhatsApp, 26-35-year olds use LinkedIn and Skype while those aged 45 and above use WhatsApp and Skype.
The number of WhatsApp subscribers, who use the social networking app on mobile phones, has decreased from 97.5 per cent in 2019 to 90 per cent in 2020 as many access WhatsApp from their offices, increasing the number of desktop (three per cent) and laptop (seven per cent) users.
A majority of Kenyans in the rural areas use Facebook Messenger at 45.3 per cent, Facebook at 44.5 per cent and WhatsApp at 44.2 per cent, compared to a majority of urban residents who use TikTok at 67.9 per cent, Vimeo at 67.4 per cent, and Pinterest at 63.4 per cent.
Technological infrastructure challenges in remote areas prevent the use of high resource-demanding social media sites and apps.
Most Kenyans use social media for entertainment, education, jobs, politics, sports, religion, and environment as well as climate matters.
Data on social media frequency of use shows that 91 per cent of WhatsApp users access the platform daily, with eight per cent accessing it weekly.
“Some 77 per cent of Facebook users visit the site daily, 19 per cent use the platform weekly, while four per cent say they visit the site less often. Sixty-seven per cent of YouTube users visit the site daily, another 28 per cent use it a few days a week, while six per cent say they use the video-sharing platform less often,” the report reveals.
The survey also shows that 28 per cent of social media users in Kenya spend more than two hours online daily. However, a 54 per cent of Kenyans spend less than one hour on social media daily.
“Thirty per cent of WhatsApp users, 21 per cent of YouTube users and 20 per cent of Vimeo users spend more than three hours online daily, while 60 per cent of WhatsApp users, 46 per cent of Facebook users and 29 per cent of YouTubers spend more than two hours online every day.
“LinkedIn has 43 per cent of users who use it for less than 30 minutes daily, despite its popularity in job-related issues,” the study discloses.
According to the survey 52.2 per cent of Kenyans spend more time on social media at night and in the evening hours, compared to 17.8 per cent who use it in the morning.
This, the research points out, could be attributed to the fact that these are the times of the day when most Kenyans are at home after their day’s work.