Twitter deleted more than 240 accounts following the discovery that there was a coordinated campaign to spread misinformation about women’s reproductive rights in Kenya.
Mozilla Fellow Odanga Madung found evidence that a Spanish-based organization, CitizenGO, pushed 10 hashtags into Twitter’s trending section in Kenya, while the country’s parliament debated the 2020 Reproductive Healthcare Bill and the 2021 Surrogacy Bill.
Madung states that the research revealed how right-wing European organizations used Twitter in order to inject disinformation into a nuanced and important regional conversation.
They were designed to prohibit forced sterilizations and make all prenatal, birth, and postnatal services available to women free of charge.
Madung reviewed over 22,000 tweets and interview influencers that claimed to have been paid for their tweets. She also received instructions and content from CitizenGO via WhatsApp.
These tweets falsely claimed surrogacy and reproductive healthcare, as well as repeated hashtags and phrases. Many were sent from accounts which only used hashtags to tweet, and were then synchronized at certain times.
According to the report, “Our research shows that campaign’s goal was to prevent factual dialogue on proposed bills and to cause moral panic.”
Because matters such as teenage sexuality, surrogacy, and abortion are hotly contested public issues in Kenya, it is possible for this tactic to work.
Twitter had to delete 100 accounts last year after Mozilla research revealed that disinformation campaigns were being promoted by a government-backed bill to change Kenya’s constitution. This was known as the Building Bridges Initiative.
However, Madung believes that Twitter’s trending algorithm is simply too easy to manipulate. The company should conduct country-specific risks assessments and work with fact checkers, civil society organisations and researchers from each country. It should provide additional information and clarity around the company’s trending algorithm.
Twitter lacks both the culture and staff to tackle this issue. This problem will only grow more severe ahead of Kenya’s 2022 federal election,” says Madung.
“These organizations have stated that they will have an influence on our politics. Twitter must address the issue before that happens.