Kenyans’ alternative facts and the reality of tribalism on social media

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You read something written on Facebook, and you have a visceral reaction. You feel sick. People have been killed. Crazy thoughts run through your head.

“ How can this be happening?”

“ This is appalling can it be true?”

So, how do we define what is real news and how can we separate it from the biased news, fake news or news that just makes us very uncomfortable? And is this even important because the truth will eventually come out? Right?

Here is the thing, the first thing that jumps out of social media posts is the smiling face of the person sharing or commenting. Social media sites like Facebook want you to share more. Therefore, and by leading with the individual, what they are saying to you very loudly is that  “This friend of yours called Jane, who is a (FILL TRIBE HERE), whose people (WON /STOLE) the election, says that this (TRIBE) is killing this (TRIBE).”

It doesn’t matter the source of the article or pictures, most important glaring information on most platforms is the person talking. In the end, our instincts are to believe that your last name betrays you and your opinion.

The phenomenon of fake news is not new. In the United States, the 2016 general election was marred by alternative facts. A study examining the phenomenon of fake news showed that when people see an article from a trusted sharer but an unknown source, they were more likely to trust the information than people who see the same information from a reputable media source shared by a person they do not trust.

Politics in Kenya are personal.The problem with our reality is that we all perceive information different from everyone. Maybe it because of where we come from, may be it is the community we grew up in or maybe our instincts is to revert to our tribe.

Sociology studies have shown that in reality, we believe claims that feel like the sort of claims they should believe (confirmation bias ), or claims that come from people who are similar to them. In contrast, when we receive information that challenges our worldview, we are more likely to rebuff or disregard it to avoid psychological discomfort; this is called cognitive dissonance.

So let say you are one of those people who have a diverse group of friends maybe even from all the ethnic groups of Kenya and one person from the opposing side thinks they should chime in and offer counter evidence. Well, just hearing counter arguments to our beliefs can cause us to hold our views even more strongly; this is the backfire effect.

An estimated 3 million Kenyans are living abroad. Though we may live in different countries, we are still tribalistic Kenyans. On social media, our tribal echo chambers amplify our viewpoints and hide others, while the fake news is passed around like real news.

So here we are in 2017 after a heavily contested election, and we are convinced that our realities are so far apart that we cannot occupy the same digital space let alone the same country. We have to make a decision, Do you want we want a facebook feeds that mirrors your tribalist leaning viewpoints or do you want to hear something that challenges your beliefs?

Maybe if we spent less time pontificating less on tribal politics and try talking about real issues such as police brutality in Kenya, or deep rooted distrust of systems, unemployment or corruption, we’d realize how alike we are and moderate our views.

Or maybe not….after all It’s complicated


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