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Influencers paid to spread false information on abortion debate

Kenyan influencers were paid to spread misinformation on Twitter during debates on two key Bills on reproductive health in the country.

This is according to a new research from the Mozilla Foundation indicating that influencers received between Sh1,000 and Sh1,500 to derail online debates over the Reproductive Healthcare Bill 2019, and the Assisted Reproductive Technology Bill 2019.

“The Twitter campaigns appear to have inauthentically promoted anti-choice sentiment and attacked politicians and activists advocating for gender rights,” states the report. 

Section 9 of the Reproductive Healthcare Bill 2019, provides for the right to assisted reproduction through technology such as artificial insemination and in-vitro fertilisation.

If enacted, the Bill would also see the national and county governments establish facilities and resources to provide accessible and affordable assisted reproduction services.

“An assisted reproduction health care provider, shall, before commencing the provision of assisted reproduction treatment provide all concerned parties with the information necessary to enable them make an informed choice and give informed consent,” explains the Bill.

The Bill also provides a legal backing for surrogacy, stipulating that surrogate mothers are eligible for compensation relating to the procedure, loss of earnings during the pregnancy and insurance cover.

Research by the Mozilla Foundation indicates that Spain-based organisation CitizenGO, which is reported to have links to far-right-wing groups sponsored and coordinated disinformation campaigns on Twitter that labelled the Reproductive Healthcare Bill 2019, as the “Abortion Bill”.

“The campaigns also made false and misleading claims around abortion, surrogacy, and other areas of reproductive health,” says the report.

The Reproduction Healthcare Bill 2019, indicates that a pregnancy may be terminated upon the opinion of a trained healthcare professional in cases of emergency, where the pregnancy endangers the life of a mother or if there exists a substantial risk that the foetus would suffer from a severe physical or mental abnormality that is incompatible with life outside the womb.

An official at the Mozzilla Foundation Odanga Madung, and the co-author of the report says the report is the latest to reveal how organisations across the globe exploit social media to manipulate crucial debates.

“The research reveals how a right-wing European organisation used Twitter to insert disinformation and inflammatory rhetoric into an important and nuanced regional conversation,” he said. 

A similar report published in October last year revealed that digital influencers were paid to introduce propaganda and misinformation in a similar fashion during public debates online following the release of the Pandora Papers.

The Pandora Papers, published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists revealed that several world leaders including President Uhuru Kenyatta held assets in off-shore tax-havens.

Influencers promoted hashtags supporting the president and his possession of offshore assets, with some tweets spreading falsehoods. 

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