Cellphone and Internet access helps – and hinders – accurate reporting in Kenya
An online mapping project depicts violence reported by ordinary Africans. But inaccurate or biased reports can serve to inflame tensions.
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But relying on user-generated content – without adequate fact-checking – can mean that information is skewed or falsified to inflame passions. The Rwandan media played a major role in inciting genocide in 1994. Last year, protests over an Asian-owned company's plans to cut down a national forest in Uganda resulted in at least one death, and the protests were reportedly organized through cellphone text messages, the BBC reported (though the link between messages and the killing was not formally established).
The US blogger Erik Hersman, who runs the White African, writes that web developer David Kobia, part of the team behind Ushahidi.com, is likely to abandon Mashada, another widely used forum about Kenya, since the online forum's verbal exchanges began to resemble the situation on the ground.
Organizers behind Ushahidi.com said they understood that false rumors could have major repercussions: more violence. As a result, they enlisted Daudi Were, a Kenyan blogger, who uses government sources, aid groups' information, and press reports so the site can verify each citizen report, reported Public Radio International.
In an e-mail to The Christian Science Monitor, Ms. Okolloh, said the site continued to work on verifying reports of violence.
Others in African media are also acutely aware of the ease with which instant communication can spark controversy. Mohammad Abubakr, who works at Kenya's Pamoja FM, told The Christian Science Monitor.
We're doing news, but we don't incite people.... We don't tell them [who should be] president, and make them want to fight. We tell them the situation in Kibera, which shops are open, where there is food, where there is fuel, where they can buy airtime for their cellphones.
Another hindrance is the so-called digital divide," and many Africans do not have access to mobile phone technology, although The New York Times reports that cellphone use is increasing by 30 to 40 percent per year.
With the recent violence, another factor is in play, reports Public Radio International: As vendors who sell prepaid phone cards close amid the violence, cellphone credits are also in short supply.