Online Activity Has Potential To Escalate Election Violence

Angela Odour | Ushahidi | February 4, 2013

Umati, a project of iHub Research and Ushahidi, has produced a pioneering collection of inflammatory speech, posted online by Kenyans in the past three months, as our presidential elections draw near.

We embarked on this effort because of the influence that new media and social media apparently had on the 2007/2008 Post Election Violence in Kenya. Unfortunately, inflammatory speech is still rife in the Kenyan online world, and we have found more dangerous hate speech than we expected – in seven separate Kenyan languages. As a result, Umati is now working with online thought leaders such as bloggers to quickly counter the effects of what our partner Professor Susan Benesch has identified as “dangerous speech.”

Professor Benesch, who studies the role of inflammatory speech in catalyzing collective violence around the world, has defined dangerous speech as hate speech with certain characteristics that help to catalyze violence by making it seem acceptable and even necessary. Umati and Professor Benesch, of the World Policy Institute, and American University in Washington, D.C., believe that societies at risk of such violence can diminish the risk – while also protecting freedom of speech – by identifying and countering “dangerous speech.”...