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Censorship or self-control? Hate speech, the state and the voter in the Kenyan election of 2013


modern african studiesJournal abstract

In 2013, the Kenyan government adopted a hybrid censorship strategy that relied on regulation, the presence of a strong security state, and the willingness of Kenyans to self-censor. The goal of this censorship strategy was to ensure a peaceful election. This study examines two issues. First, it investigates steps taken by the Kenyan government to minimise hate speech. Second, it explores how efforts to minimise hate speech affected citizen communications over SMS during the 2013 election. An initial round of qualitative data was gathered (n = 101) through a structured exit interview administered election week. A statistically significant, representative sample of quantitative data was gathered by a reputable Kenyan polling firm (n≥2000). Both sets of empirical data indicate that Kenyan citizens cooperated in large part with efforts to limit political speech. Yet speech was not always completely “peaceful’. Rather, voters used electronic media to insult, offend, and express contentious political views as well as express peace speech. This study argues that the empirical evidence suggests hate speech over text messages during the Kenyan election declined between 2008 and 2013.”

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