What’s Dangerous, What’s Not

By Angela Okune
iHub Research
  Published 30 Jan 2013
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As the Kenya general election quickly closes in on us, we are faced with a critical decision as Kenyans. Do we fall back into tribal lines and risk another bout of violence as we saw in 2007/2008? Or do we foster constructive dialogue in order to have fruitful discussions around issues that concern us? As our guest editor Jessica Musila has aptly summarized for us, the results from our Umati research project provide a wake-up call to Kenyans online that we need to be more responsible about the content we are putting out. Instead of using our blogs like personal diaries where we vent and air our frustrations, we need to realize that there is a wider audience who can potentially be incited by some of the messaging that we are pushing out.

The Umati team has been advising Permanent Secretary Bitange Ndemo and his team at the Ministry of Information and Communication about the role of “dangerous speech” in catalyzing violence. The following are guidelines we have detailed to the National Steering Committee on Media Monitoring, which we hope will also be of use to you as you produce online content. Please feel free to share and critique. We welcome your contributions. What is dangerous speech? Dangerous speech is communication that may help catalyze mass violence by moving an audience to condone - or even take part in – such violence. We focus on the speech’s effect on the audience, not the state of mind of the speaker, hence the term “dangerous” in place of “hate.” Since we want to protect freedom of expression as much as possible, we are most concerned with speech that has the potential to disrupt public order, to bring about violence (Susan Benesch). Any or all of these five factors can make speech more dangerous, in the context in which it was made or disseminated:
  • Powerful speaker with influence over the audience most likely to react
  • Audience vulnerable to incitement e.g. fearful
  • A speech act understood as a call to violence by the audience most likely to react
  • Conducive social and historical context
  • Influential means of dissemination
In studying many cases of dangerous speech, Susan Benesch has noticed three common patterns. These patterns do not automatically make speech dangerous by themselves, but they are often found in speech that is dangerous – and we have found them in Kenyan speech online also. They are:
  • Comparing another group of people with animals, insects or a derogatory term in mother tongue,
  • Suggesting that the audience faces a serious threat or violence from another group,
  • Suggesting that some people from another group are spoiling the purity or integrity of the speakers’ group (“accusation in a mirror”).
There are four ways to deal with dangerous speech: We strongly prefer the first two, since they don’t silence anyone – and these are the ones that the online community can carry out.
  1. Empower the audience to be immune from incitement
  2. Discredit the Speaker; “Help the Audience spot the lie” (Help the Audience lose the credibility of the speaker: By educating the people to spot dangerous speech and lose the credibility of the speaker, losing their power)
  3. Punish the Speaker: (e.g. NCIC)
  4. Limit the means of dissemination (Take down Facebook/Twitter accounts, etc.)
YOU can do something about stopping the speaker and discrediting the speaker. How? When you come across speech online that you suspect might be dangerous, you can: 1.  “Help the Audience spot the lie”          Help the speaker lose credibility with the audience, by educating people to spot dangerous speech, or pointing out that the speech is destructive. 2. Correct rumors and lies Instead of automatically re-tweeting content (that could in fact be a lie), help to verify or debunk the validity of the story by posting supporting or countering information that can help correct rumors or lies. 3. Report Hate Speech https://docs.google.com/a/ihub.co.ke/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dEVUZk5fUDlJQkpBUUdRbmJBWlQyLXc6MQ 3. Put out good content Think carefully about the content you are producing. Instead of talking about whole communities (which can often feel like personal attacks on those communities), focus on the real underlying issues. Do your research and write informed content that showcases both sides of the story. Don’t forget that while you do have the right to freedom of speech, but you must still be responsible and sensible about the content you produce. 4. Post your commitment against the use of hate online! Now that you know more about dangerous speech, you have a responsibility to pass that information on! Post your commitment not to use or tolerate hate online so that we can mobilize the online community to take a stand against online hate. For any questions, please contact [email protected].
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