Digitized Ethnic Hate Speech: Understanding Effects of Digital Media Hate Speech on Citizen Journalism in Kenya

Stephen Gichuhi Kimotho, Rahab Njeri Nyaga


Ethnicity in Kenya permeates all spheres of life. However, it is in politics that ethnicity is most visible. Election time in Kenya often leads to ethnic competition and hatred, often expressed through various media. Ethnic hate speech characterized the 2007 general elections in party rallies and through text messages, emails, posters and leaflets. This resulted in widespread skirmishes that left over 1200 people dead, and many displaced (KNHRC, 2008). In 2013, however, the new battle zone was the war of words on social media platform. More than any other time in Kenyan history, Kenyans poured vitriolic ethnic hate speech through digital media like Facebook, tweeter and blogs. Although scholars have studied the role and effects of the mainstream media like television and radio in proliferating the ethnic hate speech in Kenya (Michael Chege, 2008; Goldstein & Rotich, 2008a; Ismail & Deane, 2008; Jacqueline Klopp & Prisca Kamungi, 2007), little has been done in regard to social media.  This paper investigated the nature of digitized hate speech by: describing the forms of ethnic hate speech on social media in Kenya; the effects of ethnic hate speech on Kenyan’s perception of ethnic entities; ethnic conflict and ethics of citizen journalism. This study adopted a descriptive interpretive design, and utilized Austin’s Speech Act Theory, which explains use of language to achieve desired purposes and direct behaviour (Tarhom & Miracle, 2013). Content published between January and April 2013 from six purposefully identified blogs was analysed. Questionnaires were used to collect data from university students as they form a good sample of Kenyan population, are most active on social media and are drawn from all parts of the country. Qualitative data were analysed using NVIVO 10 software, while responses from the questionnaire were analysed using IBM SPSS version 21. The findings indicated that Facebook and Twitter were the main platforms used to express ethnic hatred. Hate speech incited hatred and conflict for political gain. Ethical issues raised included moral subordination and incivility.

Keywords: hate speech, Ethnicity, Ethnic conflict, digital media, social media, stereotypes, incivility, speech acts, illocutionary acts, political conflicts, moral subordination

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