Kenya’s internet freedom downgraded on bad law and censorship

By Victor Magunamu, Kenya

Kenya’s internet freedom has been downgraded from free to partially free due to increased online misinformation, hate speech and passage of the 2018 Cybercrime law.

A report by advocacy and human rights NGO Freedom House ranked Kenya at position 32 out of 100 countries rated globally. Last year Kenya was ranked position 29.

Apart from Kenya, only Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda were rated by the research institution in Africa.

Ethiopia and Sudan were rated as not free ranked at position 83, and 65 respectively.Uganda was ranked partially free at position 43.

“In the past year, Kenya’s vibrant online sphere has seen the proliferation of semi-organized bloggers for hire who use their collective clout on Twitter and Facebook to manipulate the online information landscape and shape public opinion.” the report states.

The rating was measured across five segments which include hate speech and propaganda, legal environment, Internet access, digital activism and economic growth.

According to the report, online manipulation was particularly pronounced during the 2017 elections season.

It indicated that platforms such as Facebook sponsored posts and paid Google Ads were used to spread propaganda during the season.

It added that the new Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act, 2018, passed in May 2018, has been flouted by the report as a key threat to further restrict online freedom of expression.

The law imposes penalties of up to 10 years in prison for the publication of “false’’ or “fictitious” information that results in “panic” or is “likely to discredit the reputation of a person.

This has since seen many internet users face increased intimidation, arrests and violence

The report also interrogated internet biasness, noting that internet access and affordability in Kenya is skewed towards urban with little focus on rural areas.

"Large rural areas have also not been able to benefit from Kenya’s high-capacity bandwidth in part due to market disparities and weaknesses in last mile connectivity,’’ the study noted.

There is also a huge digital divide based on gender, with more male mobile and internet users than women.

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