Revolutionizing Kenya’s Media with Fact-Checking

Tracy Anne Bonareri

This article explores how Piga Firimbi, a fact-checking initiative in Kenya, is revolutionizing the media landscape by combatting misinformation and promoting digital literacy. It discusses the challenges posed by the spread of false information online, the role of technology in fact-checking, and the collaborative efforts of organizations like Piga Firimbi, Africa Check, Pesa Check, and Code for Africa in developing tools and resources for the public to verify claims. The article highlights the importance of digital literacy, the evolving role of fact-checkers, and the criteria for defining success in the field. Ultimately, it emphasizes the importance of accurate information in fostering transparency and accountability in society.

According to Statista, Kenya leads the East African Community in internet usage, with 40.8% of the population connected online. However, this achievement is accompanied by a significant challenge, a heightened vulnerability to misinformation and disinformation online. The dissemination of false information occurs through various tactics, including social engineering, coordinated inauthentic amplification, micro-targeting, and harassment. Bots, paid influencers, trolls, sock puppets, and paid accounts contribute to the spread of misinformation, often overshadowing the efforts of legitimate journalists. Nevertheless, initiatives like Piga Firimbi have emerged as beacons of truth, dedicated to fact-checking and combating the spread of falsehoods in the digital landscape.

Piga Firimbi (Swahili for blow the whistle), launched in 2019, by Africa Uncensored, checks the veracity of claims shared in news reports and social media. They rely on open-source tools to check the legitimacy of these claims. Calvin Rock, the editor at Piga Firimbi, acknowledges technology’s role in their work, especially in debunking fake images shared online.

“Technology has been key in fact-checking, especially in utilizing tools like artificial intelligence, data analysis, and data scraping. These tools play a crucial role in verifying information,” Rock notes.

 “One of the primary tools I rely on daily is InVid by WeVerify. It helps analyze images and videos, as visuals accompany many misleading claims online. InVid helps us uncover the origins of these images, including when they were first posted, aiding in contextualizing the claims. Additionally, I use social listening tools such as Meltwater and archiving tools to track and store online information, ensuring accessibility even if the content is pulled down. Data manipulation tools like Excel are also important, assisting in gathering, analyzing, and organizing data for effective fact-checking.”

However, fact-checkers are not always responsible for gathering data, sometimes, they focus on storytelling and making complex data relatable to the public. This is why collaborations between fact-checking organizations like Piga Firimbi and Code for Africa, which empowers citizens with practical information through digital democracy labs and data journalism, are common. Nyakerario Omari, a fact-checker at Piga Firimbi, highlights the crucial role organizations like Code for Africa play in advancing fact-checking efforts in Africa.

“We are witnessing developers joining forces with fact-checkers and researchers to create tools that bridge existing gaps and address the challenges faced by those of us in research and fact-checking who lack expertise in coding and machine learning. This collaboration fills me with immense pride.”

She also notes that thanks to the data extracted by the tools developed by these developers, researchers can now access data relevant to Africa and Kenya, which makes it easier for fact-checkers to use it for storytelling.

“Open source essentially entails utilizing publicly accessible information, which often involves coding. Developers are helping us in locating, analyzing, and comprehending the data, cleaning it up for use. As storytellers, we narrate the story through the numbers, data, and networks revealed,” she said.

According to Rock, the advancement in digital literacy has facilitated fact-checkers’ work. This is because some of the tools highlighted above are now accessible to ordinary Kenyan citizens, empowering them to verify the accuracy of claims before sharing, thus aiding in the fight against misinformation.

“On X (formerly Twitter), you’ll notice posts where community members provide additional context, a task often undertaken not by fact-checkers, but by users who identify potentially misleading information and conduct their research. This proactive approach in identifying flaws and gaps in information is easing the burden on both fact-checkers and the media,” Rock states. “Misinformation on platforms like WhatsApp has decreased, thanks to widespread smartphone and internet access enabling quick fact-checking searches. Additionally, fact-checkers efforts have made it possible to access articles debunking the same claims.”

As fact-checkers in Kenya continue their tireless efforts to combat disinformation through articles, videos, and podcasts, the individuals spreading fake news are becoming increasingly cunning. This raises questions about the criteria fact-checkers use to define success. Rock shares their perspective regarding success at Piga Firimbi.

“The definition of success varies depending on how it’s measured. I consider the mere act of sharing information as a form of success. For instance, when disseminating details about potential threats such as job scams or phishing links, sparking enough suspicion in someone to prevent them from falling victim is a success. Additionally, there’s a ripple effect when debunking a claim and someone shares it with a friend who then becomes more cautious, that too is a success. It’s important to note that success isn’t solely determined by engagement with the content, as significant engagement doesn’t always translate to meaningful impact.”

To advance public digital literacy, a vital measure of their success, select members from Piga Firimbi partnered with peers from Africa Check, Pesa Check, and Code for Africa. Together, they crafted a toolkit for the public to fact-check claims circulating online. This initiative promises to play an important role in combating the fake news crisis not only in Kenya but throughout Africa.

Screengrab of the toolkit’s cover.

Thanks to the collaboration between the highlighted organizations and the utilization of various tools, Kenya has made remarkable progress in countering disinformation. However, Rock acknowledges that there is still much progress to be made

“Fact-checking is going to become the new frontier in journalism, as the era of reporting without verification is coming to an end. Fact-checking stays important because humans can use logic to see if something seems biased, has political opinions, or just doesn’t make sense. This is something that AI isn’t good at, yet.”

On April 2nd, the world observed International Fact-checking Day, serving as a reminder of the important role accurate information plays in shaping our understanding of the world. In an age where misinformation can spread rapidly through digital platforms, fact-checking initiatives like Piga Firimbi stand as the stronghold of truth, providing invaluable resources for discerning individuals seeking reliable information. As we consume and disseminate information on or offline, let us reaffirm our commitment to promoting transparency, accountability, and the pursuit of truth.

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