Report: China’s TikTok Spreading Ethnic Violence Fears in Kenyan Election

Videos posted on the Chinese-owned TikTok social media platform in Kenya in recent weeks have allegedly featured “hate, incitement and other political disinformation” that may provoke ethnic violence in the run-up to Kenya’s 2022 presidential election in August, Al Jazeera reported on Friday.

“As Kenya’s general election draws closer, an increasing number of TikTok videos featuring ‘hate, incitement and other political disinformation’ have been on the rise, according to a recent study by the Mozilla Foundation,” Al Jazeera reported on June 10.

“In a report published on Wednesday [June 8], Mozilla fellow Odanga Madung identified 130 TikTok videos that pushed ‘widespread disinformation’ and stoked ‘violent, ethnic discriminatory narratives,’” the Qatari news outlet relayed.

The Mozilla Foundation is a U.S.-based nonprofit that advocates for Internet transparency and accountability, according to its website. TikTok is a Chinese video-sharing platform. China’s government, in August 2021, acquired an ownership stake in a domestic subsidiary of ByteDance, which is a Chinese company that owns TikTok.

TikTok’s alleged hosting of videos deemed politically and ethnically sensitive by the Mozilla Foundation included the following examples, according to Al Jazeera:

The report highlighted that the collection of 130 videos from 33 accounts, breached TikTok policies on hate speech, discrimination, incitement, and inauthenticity. […]

[T]he report mentioned how one video clip showed deputy president and frontrunner William Ruto giving a speech at a rally. It captioned the speech as: “Ruto hates Kikuyus and wants to take revenge come 2022.”

The report mentioned that the video was widely distributed, receiving more than 445,000 views on TikTok.

Mozilla Foundation fellow Odanga Madung, who wrote the June 8 report, said a TikTok spokesman responded to the analysis and “removed several videos and suspended accounts from its platform that had not fallen in line with its guidelines of hate speech and incitement,” according to Al Jazeera.

Madung acknowledged in a statement issued along with his June 8 report that Kenya has a “tainted past of post-election violence.” He further stated in the report that he held “conversations with TikTok whistleblower Gadear Ayed, who was a former moderator on the platform, [that] also revealed its ‘deep unfamiliarity with the Kenyan political context’ which he said might explain how such videos went undetected,” Al Jazeera relayed.

TikTok is a globally popular video-sharing platform that was downloaded by 656 million people in 2021. The smartphone application has proven extremely successful in Kenya, which recorded the highest TikTok downloads globally in the first quarter of 2022, according to Kenya’s People’s Daily newspaper.

Kenya’s ties to China extend beyond TikTok, as Nairobi is a member of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI supports infrastructure projects in developing or lower-income nations through a Chinese-controlled loan structure that often pushes struggling countries further into debt, according to critics of the scheme. Observers further accuse Beijing of strategically using the BRI to promote the influence of China’s ruling Communist Party globally.

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