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Extreme Speech During Online Political Communication in Kenya

Institutions & Governance Kenya
Supporters of opposition leader celebrate in Kibera after 2017 election | Reuters, Thomas Mukoya

Supporters of opposition leader celebrate in Kibera after 2017 election | Reuters, Thomas Mukoya

Study Context

Online political discourse in Kenya is characterized by political polarization based on ethnic identity. This political polarization can manifest as physical aggression, but it can also be expressed through social networking sites as extreme speech. This study looked at the phenomena of the normalization of extreme speech in social media. In particular, this study examined the characteristics and attitudes of respondents who engage in political discourse, whether social media users choose a particular social media platform based on their personal or group identity, and how media gratification can have a “spiraling effect” (where the user chooses a communication medium based on perceived gratification, which leads to them choosing it again and subsequent normalization).


Study Design

The authors analyzed content using the official Facebook pages of the President and the Official Opposition leader in periods after major political events that brought about increased social media use in political conversations. A survey was also administered to the respondents whose comments were flagged as containing extreme speech.

Results and Policy Lessons

Preliminary results show that different individuals are catalyzed to express extreme speech as a reaction to another comment that uses extreme speech. These reactions are either to oppose the comment posted or to support it; however in most cases, posts with extreme speech are replied to with extreme speech, either in favor of or opposing the view. Those supporting the original comment form an in-group, while those opposed to the comment form an out-group and hence escalate the use of extreme speech in their communication.

  • Jay Muia Mutinda
  • Robert Aswani

2020 — 2020

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