Rumors, especially those that aren’t true, have a way of taking on a life of their own and having serious consequences. Misinformation can create an environment of distrust and fear that can easily turn into conflict. During 2012 and 2013, a series of interethnic massacres between the Orma and Pokomo ethnic groups in Kenya’s Tana Delta ravaged a community.
It turns out that the main cause of the violence came from mostly false rumors spread both by malicious intent and a lack of reliable media and communications sources. The Sentinel Project launched Una Hakika (Swahili for “Are you sure?”) in October 2013. The system integrates telecommunications and traditional human networks so that Tana Delta residents can anonymously report unverified information to Una Hakika by phone and receive accurate information in response once local program staff have investigated and verified it.
The Sentinel Project organized a team of researchers from Kenya and Canada to look into ways ICT can be used for managing harmful misinformation in unstable environments. The Tana Delta is one of the least developed areas in Kenya, but it has high mobile phone and Internet usage.
This is not the Sentinel Project’s first venture into using technology for addressing human rights abuses. A couple of years ago we reported on the organization’s then project called Hatebase, the world’s largest online database for hate speech.
Una Hakika has produced many lessons that can be used in future international development and conflict resolution projects around the world. The researchers found that the “information deficit” identified at the project’s outset was significantly decreased, both in terms of how well-informed residents reported being, as well as the delays they experienced in receiving information.
Also, women benefited the most from Una Hakika project as the nature of the input and output mechanisms went around barriers, such as literacy or social structures, which previously hindered their ability to gather information. Finally, the Tana Delta community felt that Una Hakika reduced interethnic tensions, prepared them for possible future crises, and served the community honestly and fairly with facts.
“Going forward, the Sentinel Project team is planning an ambitious Phase 2 expansion of Una Hakika into other parts of Kenya ahead of the 2017 general election, which is a time when intercommunal tensions, dangerous speech, and misinformation will be prominent,” said Drew Boyd, the Sentinel Project’s director of operations. “We are also implementing a pilot of the Una Hakika model in Burma (Myanmar), where it will be used to counter misinformation which enables intercommunal conflict. Furthermore, we are continuing to disseminate our findings on a regular basis and make the Sentinel Project team available to advise others on how to implement similar systems around the world.”
The Sentinel Project produced a larger report of their findings on Una Hakika.