The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) has drafted guidelines which will restrict the use of social media on political messaging before and after the August 8 elections to avoid instability in the country.
The guidelines released by the commission chair Francis Kaparo, seek to prevent the transmission of undesirable political content using text messages and social media posts.
Coming at a time of heightened political activity in the country ahead of next month’s polls, the guidelines also bar political messages that are offensive, abusive, insulting, misleading, confusing, obscene or profane language.
Mobile phone operators have been given the power to stop circulation of the messages deemed to be inflammatory.
“The message shall not contain inciting, threatening or discriminatory language that may or is intended to expose an individual or group of individuals to violence, hatred, hostility, discrimination or ridicule on the basis of ethnicity, tribe, race, colour, religion, gender or disability,” the guidelines state.
The rules also dictate that no bulk text messages will be in vernacular. In 2008, over 1,300 lives were lost due to post-election related violence that was largely blamed on hate speech.
Information and Communication Technology Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru was upbeat with the guidelines noting that his ministry will work closely with that of Interior to deal with “issues very fast.”
“We have held several consultative meetings and have ensured we have both online and offline teams monitoring the political messaging,” Mr Mucheru said.
The CS also dismissed fears on why parliament had not been involved in the adoption of the regulations and whether it was an attempt to introduce censorship through the backdoor, saying that those found to have violated the law will be dealt with fairly.
“It is clear that the guidelines are dealing with what is not allowed. This is our country and we want to ensure that we have a country that is safe.
“If someone is caught, they will be taken through the legal process. The judiciary enforces the law, so there is nothing sinister about this,” he said.
Those who violate the guidelines will be punished in line with the NCIC Act, the penal code and other relevant laws.
The NCIC Act provides a minimum of Sh1 million fine or a jail term of not exceeding three years or both.
Those sending the messages are required to avoid a tone and words that constitute hate speech, ethnic contempt and incitement to violence, harassment, abuse, violence, defamation or intimidation.
“The rules provide that it shall be the responsibility of the content author to authenticate, validate the source and truthfulness of their content prior to publishing,” the guidelines say.
Prior to sending a political message, the content service providers are required to make a request to a mobile network operator at least 48 hours before sending the message.
The request shall include verbatim content of the political message, signed authorisation letter from the political party or individual sponsoring the message.
Content shall then be vetted by the mobile network operator to ensure compliance and notify the requesting entity within 18 hours of submission of the request.
However, the network operator has the right to refuse the transmission of a proposed message it views does not comply with the set guidelines.