Kenyan Media Can Do Better: Say No To Sensationalism, #FakeNews & #AlternativeFacts.

On January 9th, 2017 I received the following email requesting an interview for Standard newspaper’s “Eve Woman” magazine.

“Dear Zawadi,

 

Following our conversation on Twitter, I would like to request an interview for Eve Woman magazine.

We would like to feature you as an Achieving Woman. The feature is two-pages and we highlight women who inspire others and have overcome obstacles to triumph in their personal and professional lives.”

 

I think most people would be thrilled to receive such an email, and as much as I felt honored that my work was being appreciated and that I was being recognized as an “Achieving Woman”, at the same time, I couldn’t help but hesitate because of all the media and cyber violence I have experienced in the last few years. Nonetheless, I decided to challenge myself, push my comfort levels, and take this opportunity to tell my story. After all, as I had decided during the #VesselOfPower ceremony I co-facilitated with soul-worker Amyra Mah on 7.1.17, just two days earlier, 2017 is my year of freedom, so there must have been a reason this door had been opened.

 

In 2016, I started sharing a lot about my life, my politics, my personal challenges and victories on Instagram – a process that has been very empowering and liberating. This Eve Woman Magazine article was therefore an opportunity to reach a wider audience, not because I want to be “famous”, but because I want to make a difference. So I decided to dig deep and reflect on exactly what it was I wanted to share, that I felt might help make a difference to other women and people reading it. It isn’t easy to be vulnerable and put yourself out there, but I knew that if I was going to do it, it needed to be meaningful for me.

 

I spent two weeks reflecting on and writing detailed answers to the interview questions I was sent. It wasn’t easy for me to let go of the anxiety of how my story might be told by someone else, but I surrendered to the process and told myself that as long as I stayed true to my authentic voice, it would all work out. I also wanted to trust that they had a genuine interest in my story, and weren’t just using my family name(s). Naiive I guess, given the final title, copy, and click-bait tweets that make The Standard sound like a tabloid (see below), but I went through with it anyway. In the end, the reflection process was actually a really powerful one, so I thank Standard Media for this opportunity. The face-to-face interview with the journalist Claire Munde was also surprisingly pleasant. Unlike other interviews I have done, I felt that Claire was really present and we talked at length for almost two hours when we met on the 27th of January in a restaurant in Nairobi.

 

After our meeting, I sent Claire all my responses in writing so that she would have all the facts at hand, and then went on about my business, knowing that the article would be published on February 4th. She did tell me that she didn’t have control of the final edit, and that she would be reading it along with everyone else, but I trusted that with all the information I had given them, all would be well. I was looking forward to reading an article that I would be happy and proud to share, but that wasn’t the case. To my surprise, besides using a sensational headline, and misquoting me in various sections, there was a total of 8 factual errors, including important information like dates and financial figures. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of useful information in the article, but as it is, I cannot possibly endorse it. The most frustrating thing about this all, is that the internet really never forgets, so the next time another blogger or journalist is doing research about me online, and they find what is supposed to be an authoritative media article about me, they are likely to use the wrong information presented in this article. This has been the case the last few years, and one of the main reasons why I avoid print media. I am really confused about why the Standard Newspaper would change the facts. Is this lazy journalism? Is there another agenda that I don’t know about?

 

Whatever the case, I sent an email to them with all the corrections at 12:51pm on Saturday February 4th, and was told that the changes would be made, or article pulled down until it was correct. 48 hours later, the article is still up, with all the errors, and it is making the rounds. “Any press is good press, they say,” but I am not someone who is just hungry for press. I would actually appreciate it if what is written about me is a true and factual representation of my story that I am proud to share. There is absolutely no reason why this article could not have been one such example – a positive contribution to my digital footprint.

 

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This tweet is by @StandardKenya is extremely misleading. None of the said content was discussed in the interview, nor published in the article. This is akin to the global rise we are witnessing in the use of sensationalism and #FakeNews by media as click bait.

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The article has since made the rounds, including being shared by social media for non-profits guru Beth Kanter, who I referenced in the article as the inspiration behind my use of social media for change. With an award-winning social media blog and a verified twitter account with almost 500k followers, these are moments when I appreciate the strategic relationships I have built online since I started using social media as a tool for change in 2010. At the same time, I can’t help but feel anxious and frustrated about the fact that this article is promoting #alternativefacts about me, my work, and Digital Media Agency 7th Sense Communications. So, while this statement might not have as wide a reach as the Standard Digital article, for the record, here are my corrections:

 

Subtitle: I am 36, not 37

 

First line: The year was 2015 (Not 2012)

 

Paragraph 2: “more than Sh7 million was raised” (This information is particularly important, especially considering how seriously I take transparency and accountability with regards to the #1MilliForJadudi campaign and the cyber violence I experienced around it in October 2015 and since. This is what inspired my first Digital Ubuntu Africa blog post. The total amount raised has been published by Africa Cancer Foundation many times, including in #TheJadudiReportKES 7,256,096)

 

Paragraph 7: “I started Digital Ubuntu Africa (That is the correct name of the platform, not just “Ubuntu” which is something else.)

 

Paragraph 8: “Zawadi says cyber violence (not cyber bullying – I never use the phrase “cyber bullying,” because it is actually violence – language and definitions are really important in addressing these challenges. I have stated this many times in many interviews I have done – it is violence.) Also, “Twitticide” is quitting Twitter, not social media all together.

 

Paragraph 10: “For the first year of her life …” (not the first two years of my life)

 

Paragraph 20: “We were to raise Sh100,000” – that is not what I said. I had a budget of Sh100,000 for my project, but I didn’t let that limit me. I designed the project I wanted and then raised the resources to do it.

 

Paragraph 35: “She is also the CEO (not Director) of a PR & Digital Media Agency 7th Sense Communications.

 

I also did not say these words: “I don’t just take on any client. It has to be a firm focused on bringing change, like social entrepreneurs.”

 

What I said was:

 

“We are intentional about the clients we work with. We work with individuals and organizations/companies that have a positive impact on society.”

 

As part of our digital citizenship and responsibility, may this be an opportunity for us to reflect on how to build a culture of responsible journalism that is honest and accountable. Let us SAY NO to #FakeNews and #AlternativeFacts in Kenya, the US and all over the world. This Gif posted by @Calestous says it all.

 

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What’s your take on these conversations? Please share your comments below or tag me @ZawadiNyongo on twitter or Instagram using #DigitalUbuntu.

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