How Kenya Used Social Media to Inform Voters and Counter Fake News

Publication Date: 
30 May 2018

News Type:

by Carla Chianese*

In Kenya, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is mandated to conduct continuous voter education and in 2017, ahead of the Kenyan general elections, the IEBC set out to work collaboratively with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) through the Kenya Electoral Assistance Program (KEAP) to improve outreach and voter education efforts for meaningful electoral participation.

Through a collaborative effort between researchers, the IEBC’s Voter Education and Partnerships Department, the IEBC’s Communications Department and IFES’ strategic communications specialists, a robust voter education effort was organized, consisting of the Youth Vote (YVOTE) activation campaign, digital outreach, and motivational and educational voter ads.

This outreach effort was part of a larger interdisciplinary approach to strategic communications for preventing and responding to false news and misinformation that could lead to digital and electoral violence and disenfranchisement of voters. Expertise was generated through multiple efforts, including primary and secondary research and the development of resources, tools and creative content. The aim was to improve media literacy and implement an effective digital interrupter strategy to complement voter education efforts.

Together with the IEBC, KEAP designed the target audience based on census, socioeconomic and voter registration data to ensure that IEBC resources were used in a targeted way. This analysis affirmed that 18-29-year-olds were the largest population eligible for voter registration but were the least registered, and that they are the poorest, often living in high-density, low-income areas.

A variety of digital tools were used, such as Google AdWords search and display; digital banners; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube ads; graphics and videos; third party social media platforms; Google, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram analytics; paid channel management; content production; digital public relations; social listening; and landing pages. Segmented audiences were targeted with digital and social media ads based on geography, demographics, and psychographics (interests and user behaviors).

Innovatively, the IEBC sought to leverage new media to interrupt misinformation and fake news about the Kenyan general elections and developed innovative distribution models that served the electoral commission, segments of the public and other organizations in their search for factual information.

Myth buster ads were used to quell emerging and potential rumors and misinformation circulating on social media and used real-time feedback from the “Get Out the Vote” activation campaign. The aim was to state facts and dispel myths to enhance the legitimacy of the electoral process and the IEBC and improve the likelihood that voters would cast valid votes peacefully.

An unbranded ad from the IEBC

For the most part, myth buster ads were unbranded, not bearing any organizational logo, however the “Now You Know” brand identity was created to give it a unique identity. Though appropriate for the time and context, this will not always work. For myth busting ads to be effective, the message and the messenger need to be credible and reliable. Some of the myth busting “Now You Know” ads were posted and promoted from the YVOTE campaign’s social media pages, however on other occasions the “Now You Know” ads were promoted unbranded on Facebook. KEAP made these decisions on a case-by-case basis based on the rumors and myths that were circulating and determined who, if anyone, would be the most credible messenger. Nuanced myth buster messaging included vote motivators, which were pre-tested and encouraged voter participation.

A branded ad from the IEBC

Communication interventions were prioritized to understand the most pressing need of the segmented audience in order to improve information and awareness of voting processes and maintain credible communications.

At the end of the voter education campaign, 16,667,755 people were reached through social and digital media.

It is essential that voter educators and electoral management bodies are able to embolden the way that they communicate, educate and engage in order to promote active and meaningful civic participation.

*Carla Chianese is a civic and voter education specialist for IFES’ KEAP program.

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