News Features

Online fake news and hate speech are fueling tribal ‘genocide’ in South Sudan


By Benjamin Reeves
PRI Conflict and Justice GlobalPost April 25, 2017, · 12:00 PM EDT

Earlier this month, the United Nations World Food Program discovered three of its workers were killed there. The violence has gotten so bad that a senior British official has made the rare move by a foreign government of calling it outright tribal “genocide.”

Diccionario del odio en Sudán del Sur

‘El Pais’ article by Gloria Pallares, 11 April 2017

Las redes sociales inflaman la guerra que sitúa al país al borde del genocidio. Un glosario identifica por primera vez los términos usados para incitar a la violencia.

Hay palabras que matan. En el caso de Sudán del Sur, las redes sociales han emergido como un nuevo frente del conflicto etnopolítico que sitúa al país al borde del genocidio y ha sumido diversas de sus regiones en la hambruna este año, según la ONU y expertos internacionales. Una guerra que enfrenta a los partidarios del presidente de etnia dinka, Salva Kiir, con el exvicepresidente nuer Riek Machar desde diciembre de 2013. Aunque Sudán del Sur está entre los países menos desarrollados del mundo y un 70% de su población es analfabeta, los discursos de odio y noticias falsas logran saltar la barrera de Internet y recrudecer la violencia en lugares donde ni siquiera hay electricidad. Ante la seriedad del problema, organizaciones locales e internacionales se han puesto manos a la obra para ponerle coto. Uno de los frutos de este esfuerzo colectivo es el Glosario de palabras de odio, que identifica por primera vez los términos utilizados para incitar a la violencia en las redes sociales.

Hate Speech Lexicon in South Sudan

Gloria Pallares El Pais April 2017   |    Translated by Johanna Schnitzler

There are words that kill. In the case of South Sudan, social media has emerged as a new source of ethno-political conflict. According to the United Nations and international experts, South Sudan is at the brink of genocide and has been plagued with famine throughout the region this year. Ethnic conflict has erupted since December 2013 amongst parties that are aligned with President Salva Kiir of the Dinka tribe, against those aligned with Former Vice President Riek Machar, of the Nuer tribe. Although South Sudan is among the world’s least developed countries and about 70% of its population is illiterate, hate speech and fake news disseminates through the internet and spreads violence to regions that don’t even have electricity. Local and international organizations have responded to the gravity of situation through their work. One result of this collective effort is the Lexicon of Hate Speech Terms which is the first of its kind to identify the vocabulary used to incite violence of social media.

Social Media fuels war in a country on the brink of genocide. The Hate Speech Lexicon is the first to identify the terms used to incite violence.

In conversation with Nelson Kwaje

#defyhatenow social media manager

What kind of work do you do? I use three words to describe what I do: People, Technology, and Transformation. We are living in a very exciting time where everyone can have a voice; the internet, especially social media, makes it easy for us to write our own narratives and talk to people about things that impact us. I urge us (youth) to do more. Having a voice and being able to express your opinion is not an end by itself, we need to move beyond expressions and protest. True change comes when persistence leads to meaningful actions by leaders and policy makers. In short, engage in policy.

What inspires your work? People inspire me. I believe in the power of youth to make the change and create meaningful solutions for the problems we are facing in Africa. I am unapologetically a Pan-Africanist at heart. This comes out through my actions and even dressing at times. The African transformation agenda is what drives me.”

How well versed are young people in digital skills especially in rural Africa? Most of what we call digital skills today is very recent knowledge. Ten years ago the title “Social media manager”was unheard of, but today every serious business has a social media manager. Young Africans, in general, are very savvy and knowledgeable in digital skills. However, there is a huge disparity between urban and rural Africa. When you move within countries and between countries you will realize that what we call digital revolution is not being seen by everyone. [Full text below]

How To Use Facebook And Fake News To Get People To Murder Each Other

Jason Patinkin, BuzzFeed Contributor Reporting From Juba, South Sudan       |    

In South Sudan, a country where the vast majority of people lack internet access, fake news and hateful speech leap from Facebook to the real world — with possibly deadly consequences.

Although the vast majority of South Sudan’s population has no internet access — the adult literacy rate in the country is around 30% — social media incitement has had an outsized impact largely because it mainly comes from the South Sudanese diaspora, who are held in extremely high esteem back home.

In November, the UN warned that ethnic cleansing is underway and that the fighting could spill into genocide. Government and rebel leaders stand accused of orchestrating Facebook and Twitter campaigns inciting the violence.

“Social media has been used by partisans on all sides, including some senior government officials, to exaggerate incidents, spread falsehoods and veiled threats or post outright messages of incitement,” a separate report by a UN panel of experts released in November reads.

The online networks spreading fake news and hate speech in South Sudan are surprisingly similar to those that have spread like wildfire in the United States. The groups are based abroad, are believed to be for-profit, prey on a general lack of media literacy, and specialize in setting up confusingly named websites to share false news and unverified images.

Groups like #DefyHateNow and #AnaTaban, an online artist collective, are trying to combat online hate by posting positive peace messages, directly challenging incitement, and urging people to collect screenshots of hate speech for future prosecutions. The groups also hold workshops with South Sudanese youth to educate them on using social media responsibly.