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Kenya petitions Facebook and Twitter over senders of hate speech

Although Kenyan general elections earlier in the month were generally peaceful, the Kenyan government is petitioning Facebook and Twitter in a move aimed at pushing the two social media networks to uncover the identities of those perpetuating hate speech in the country.

The decision by Kenya is in itself likely to be viewed as hate for social media networks in a region where many countries are already planning to ban or regulate the use of social media networks as well as online news media.

The rise in the posting of hate messages comes just two weeks after the East African country successfully held peaceful elections that were won by Uhuru Kenyatta, currently facing charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

It's not clear yet whether Kenya will move to crack down on social media networks and online news media, which have become a conduit for people expressing their anger and feeling over governance issues in the region.

Zambia and Malawi are already moving to close down and more closely monitor online media.

The hate for online media comes in the wake of popular uprisings in Africa and the Middle East last year that were mainly coordinated through social media networks. However, critics say the move to regulate social media networks and to shut down some online news media poses a threat to the growth of the Internet in the region.

The Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Information and Communications in Kenya, Dr. Bitenge Ndemo, said this week, "The government will pursue the hate mongers vehemently. We will petition Facebook and Twitter to uncover the identities of people perpetuating hate speech."

Hate speech through social media networks caused the death of over 1,200 people and the displacement of over 600, 000 in Kenya's 2007 disputed general elections, it is said.

Africa is experiencing an explosion in the number of online media organizations many of which are accused of promoting hate speech and racism.

Zambian president Michael Sata has already ordered the Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA), the country's telecommunications regulator, to close down at least some online media outlets in the country, claiming they are promoting hate speech.

In Malawi, the government has drafted a law, the E-Bill, which seeks to regulate and control online communications including social media networks in the country. The bill would require that editors of online publications make known their names, addresses and telephone numbers in addition to other information.

The E-Bill further introduces the concept of government-appointed cyber-inspectors, who would have the powers to, among other duties, monitor and inspect any website or activity on an information system in the public domain and report any unlawful activity to the regulatory authority.

Last year's report by the U.N. special rapporteur on racism Mutuma Ruteere urged African countries to implement measures to combat online extremism by websites that promote hate speech, but without curbing freedom of speech.


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