NRT called a meeting between all the administrators of the major Facebook pages in the northern counties, to discuss social media as a force for peace
NRT peace meetings typically take place under the shade of an acacia tree, many miles from the nearest town. Attended by respected elders and other community representatives, these meetings are aimed at encouraging dialogue between difference communities, and coming up with constructive solutions to common challenges.
NRT’s most recent peace-related meeting however, was one that epitomised the rapidly changing social construction of northern Kenya’s younger demographic. This was not a gathering of elders under a tree, this was a convening of people with a much wider, more powerful reach. This was a meeting of the Facebook administrators for 14 of the region’s most popular Facebook groups.
The Facebook page ‘Marsabit County We Want’ has 12,000 members. ‘Samburu East Development Forum’ has almost 10,000 members, ‘Isiolo County’ has almost 9,000. In a rapidly changing political, social and environmental landscape – Facebook has become so much more than a way to connect with personal friends for the people of northern Kenya. It has become a forum to discuss, debate and rally. It has become a broadcast tool for news that gets dismissed and forgotten by newspapers, or perhaps is simply too out of reach. But it has also taken on a more sinister role. The incitement of ethnic and religious hatred, the dissemination of false rumours and misinformation, have been seen all too frequently on these pages – with significant consequences.
On the 15th October, NRT called for a meeting of the Facebook admins from pages with a target following in Samburu, Isiolo, and Marsabit. The theme: how can we ensure social media is a force for peace in northern Kenya?
The meeting was also attended by NRT’s CEO Mike Harrison, the communications managers from NRT and Lewa, NRT’s County Coordinatiors from Isiolo and Samburu, and NRT’s Peace Coordinator Josphine Ekiru. NRT’s communications manager called for everyone to come together and form a network to engage against violent and disruptive messaging by:
- Promoting factual information so people can make informed decisions
- Promoting non-violent conflict resolution
- Supporting marginalised members of society so that they too have a voice
- Doing all of this without undermining the community’s legitimacy and ownership of peace drives.
The administrator of Samburu East Development Forum (SEDF), Tom Lolosoli, showed other admins how to ‘vet’ group members and spot fake accounts. These are most likely to be the people posting hateful speech and spreading rumours, he said, and pose a risk to the reputation of the Facebook page. He took the admins through the procedure or issuing warnings to members posting inappropriate content, and showed them how to block repeat offenders. A number of other challenges were raised and discussed, including how to disseminate factual political information (such as the use of community development funds) without being associated with a particular party. Lolosoli emphasised the importance of ensuring trusted information sources, and warned against admins being ‘buttered up’ by powerful people who want access to their audience.
Lolosoli also suggested a closed Facebook group just for the admins present at the meetings, as a platform to create and implement a standard set of guidelines for groups, and share information and news. This was met with enthusiasm from all present. The meeting was concluded with a sense of resolve, and a feeling that this new network of social media powers could really become a force for change and peace advocacy in the region.