The issue of fake news in Kenya is prevalent especially during the period of general elections.
Fake news or fabricated news are false stories published in different mediums or sources such as the media (newspapers, television, news et cetera), social media (Facebook, Twitter, et cetera) and online (websites, blogs, et cetera).
Fake news in Kenya serves different purposes including to influence (for example, politics or jokes) or to increase sales (for example, clickbait).
The major characteristics of fake news in Kenya are being scandalous, sensational, rumours, exaggeration and fabrication. They are especially widespread in Kenyan politics.
The major difference between satire or parody and fake news is that the former is aimed at pleasing or amusing while the latter is basically hoax news, propaganda, or false information that is published as authentic news.
Fake news deceives readers with the aim of maximising readership or profit.
However, our own biases can make some people mislabel some things (as) fake news. Not everything you disagree with is fake news.
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Here are some quick tips to spot fake news in Kenya.
First, if online, check the domain name’s Whois record. A domain is basically the website name or the address where Internet users can access a website, for example, afrocave.com. Whois is a widely used Internet record listing that identifies who owns a domain and how to get in contact with them.
My favourite website to check for the Whois record is the ICANN website. When you input a domain name there, it tells you all about the domain, including information like who owns the domain and how to contact the person.
Some domain owners may have their contact details hidden in their Whois records by getting private registration from the domain registrar.
However, for the purposes of spotting fake news, it is important to check when the domain was registered. It is especially important to check if the registration was recent since it might potentially be a sign of a fake news website. A good example of this is a story investigated by PesaCheck.
The organisation was tracking a fake polls website that showed just how crafty fake news in Kenya was getting. The fake news website was imitating a local research company and had copied the research firm’s survey from two months earlier.
Local media houses even took up the story by the fake news website (which was received as a press release). The media houses only retracted the story after the real research firm distanced themselves from the poll. This showed how Kenyan media houses have a weak culture of fact-checking.
The site’s Whois records also showed the site had been registered only recently but its contact information was private.
Therefore, it is important to note that some fake news websites mimic real websites., hence check several aspects of the site such as the logo, the content, their social media accounts, among other things.
Also, beware of strange domain names and extensions (such as .io, .se, .to, et cetera). However, these domain extensions are not necessarily a sign of a fake news website.
Second, look for the sources of the story (including figures, images, et cetera). If you are likely to encounter a website that you have probably never heard of, be cautious!
For photos or images, check for the Exchangeable Image File (EXIF) data. Basically, this data contains all the basic information about the image. This data is important to know the properties of the image you take. An important feature in spotting fake news is seeing when the image was taken.
Another way to check for the authenticity of a photo or an image is to use Google’s reverse image search. It lets you search by images instead of keywords where you upload an image to the site and it shows you similar webpages on the internet with similar images. Reverse search is important for verifying the source of photographs.
Therefore, the main tips to spot fake news in Kenya or to deal with them are summarised as follows:
- Consider the source of the news (or story) including the mission and purpose of the source.
- Understand the whole story by analysing the headline and the content.
- Verify the identity of the author. Is the author credible, real, et cetera?
- Assess the supporting sources for the news or story. Are the supporting sources true or false?
- Check the relevance of the news or the story by the date of publication.
- Determine if the story is satire or jokes or it is indeed fake news.
- Look at your own biases to see whether they affect your own judgement.
- Lastly, seek independent or expert knowledge.
To guide you to spot fake news in Kenya, you can adopt a guide similar to the one used by PesaCheck which is as follows:
- What is the claim in one sentence?
- Where was the claim published?
- What does the source (of the claim) show?
- What sources have you used to (fact) check the claim?
- Where does the claim lie on the metre? (for example, true or false?)
To guide you in fact-checking a source for fake news or misleading information, see my past stories on PesaCheck.