Kenyan officials have proposed new regulations that would impose a fine, jail time or both for using mobile SMS and social media platforms to promote “dissemination of undesirable political messages.”
Kenyan citizens are encouraged to anonymously report “potential inflammatory content,” a move that could add even more contention to a process that doesn’t clarify the limits on what makes a political message “undesirable,” or whose definition of “polite, truthful and respectful” is used.
The guidelines emphasize the language and tone of the messages, which could be labeled on a continuum from hate speech to those perceived to be intimidating. Any political speech shared on social media platforms must be accurate and the sender identified; if the message is aligned with “personal interest” or affiliation, that relationship must be disclosed.
For social media users, Kenya’s proposed rules apply to all online publishing and discussion, including media sharing and blogging, as well as Twitter and similar products, Facebook and other social networking sites, and products used for sharing documents and data.
Messages must be approved at least 48 hours in advance by mobile network service providers, with an exact copy of the message to be reviewed and an authorization letter before they can be sent out.
The policies, along with those covering media broadcasters, raise red flags over a fully transparent electoral process.
“Persons who knowingly spread inflammatory content shall be penalized according to the NCI Act, penal code and other relevant laws,” the National Cohesion and Integration (NCI) Commission said. The commission has crafted the regulation alongside the Communications Authority of Kenya.
A copy of the guidelines is available here.