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.

 Visualizaciones elaboradas por PeaceTech Lab que muestra palabras usadas de forma recurrente que incitan a la violencia

Visualizaciones elaboradas por PeaceTech Lab que muestra palabras usadas de forma recurrente que incitan a la violencia

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.

#defyhatenow social media #peacejam Alberta, Canada UN World Peace Day 21st September 2016
#defyhatenow social media #peacejam Alberta, Canada UN World Peace Day 21st September 2016

South Sudanese Journalists Face Increasing Threats as Political Violence Peaks, July 2016

by Pernille Baerendtsen

The media and civil society have long struggled to survive in Sudan and South Sudan, but the impact of the conflict that erupted in 2013 has made working in media even more dangerous. The government released a set of quasi-official (and thus unclear) guidelines of what journalists “should” (and by default, should not) report on. In 2014, officials banned journalists from citing political or militant sources opposing the government. […]

This difficult media climate alongside a slow but steady increase in Internet and mobile phone use has led citizens to rely more heavily on major social media platforms, chiefly Facebook, for information. While this shift has had some positive effects, it also has increased the potential for the spread of misinformation and political propaganda.

On July 10, South Sudanese security and development analyst Jok Madut Jok, who is also co-founder of the Sudd Institute, wrote on Facebook:

Listen folks, South Sudanese in the Diaspora, please stop commenting on social media about what is going on in Juba right now. You know no shit about this….just try to find your relatives on phone, check on them to see if they are safe, help them in whatever way you can, and then shut the fuck up. You are not helping whatsoever. I’m not trying to suppress your individual rights to speak all you want, but only asking you to weigh what you say, and do so with a conscience… Every misinformation you peddle will most likely cost us another life. Is it not enough that our leaders have caused us this pain, do you have to add salt to injury?

Matthew LeRiche, a lecturer in conflict, security and development, describes how social media is affecting local conversations and perspectives on the conflict:

Many people in South Sudan, especially youth facing major difficulties in accessing information, are turning to Facebook as a primary source for news and information – and in many cases as their only source. They then pass this information onto others via very effective local word of mouth channels, [which have] greater scope and velocity due to mobile phones. The comments particularly by those in the diaspora, but also many media and other commentators, are then filtered back through communities.

LeRiche goes on to describe how these information flows can sometimes lead to misinformation or even stoke further tension or conflict:

Such sources, especially those with education in the West are seen as authoritative by many back in South Sudan. People then act on whatever information they have since they are in active survival mode and there are few opportunities for verification. The action taken is at best antagonism and at worst overt acts of violence. This dynamic also grants justification to many to act on sentiment or desire that might have been curtailed without a supporting narrative.

South Sudanese journalists have spoken against hate speech, as well as religious leaders, and on July 23 a group of activists got together in Nairobi under the #defyhatenow hashtag in an initiative to combat social media hate speech. The event was initiated by a collaboration between r0g_agency for open culture and critical transformation in Berlin and the Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation (CEPO) in Juba.


Let’s Talk is the new podcast on South Sudan featuring Achol Jok Mach in conversation with South Sudanese community leaders and citizens.

Mr Buk Arop currently serves as President of South Sudan Development Foundation and Secretary General for Abyei Youth Association in Diaspora. Buk Arop holds a Bachelor of Arts in International Development Studies and Master of Arts in Cultural Studies from Saint Mary’s University and Athabasca University respectively. Currently working with the Government of Alberta as Career and Employment Consultant, Buk has lived in Canada for nearly 16 years and is active in the South Sudanese community across Canada. Buk participates in numerous forums as speaker or panelist on various topics mostly related to aid, poverty, international development, multiculturalism, South Sudan, African Diaspora, racism, immigrants and refugee experiences.

Sam Acire Obaloker is a South Sudanese from Panyikwara who currently resides in Canada, and works for the government of Alberta. In 2000, he immigrated to Canada through WUSC and studied Social Work at the University of Regina. Sam has a long work experience in the Human Services in Edmonton – Alberta.

Sam is a dedicated family man who has a passion for writing poetry, and is actively involved with the Community during his spare time. One of his works – Windows- was first published besides others on the death of Literary Arts in East Africa that featured the renowned writer and professor, Dr. Taban Lo’Lyiong in the “Tore” news magazine. Sam is currently working on a project with peers to launch their first collected works reflecting on their past in South Sudan, and to promote a new genre of literary arts in the new nation – South Sudan.


Bahr al-Ghazal University students use internet to promote peace and stop hate speech – RADIO TAMAZUJ, WAU 19 DEC 2016

More than 20 students from various faculties of the University of Bahr el Ghazal in Wau participated in a two day workshop with a focus on using the internet to spread peace messages and to identify and counter hate speech online.

The workshop organizer Viola Joseph said Wikipedia is a source of information about South Sudan, although this information may be outdated or incorrect. In this workshop, she aims to encourage the students to write correct data about South Sudan, and this in will in turn contribute to the peace process.

The workshop was held under the auspices of #DefyHateNow initiative which is supported by the German Foreign Ministry and initatied by rog_agency for open culture and critical transformation. The second part of the workshop was about the importance of using the Internet to spread messages of peace and not to use it to spread violence and hatred among citizens in South Sudan.

#defyhatenow Peace Messages

Peace / Diaspora Roundtable & Strategic Forum on Mobilising Civic Action Against Hate Speech and Directed Social Media Incitement to Violence in South Sudan. Peace messages from participants, July 2016 NAIROBI PROGRAM


Friday 14th October #defyhatenow

Juba Monitor, 15th October 2016 #defyhatenow


Juba Monitor, 25th November 2016 #defyhatenow
Juba Monitor, 25th November 2016 #defyhatenow

Almasar Newspaper 12th December 2016 #defyhatenow

Monday 5th Dec 2016, The Dawn National News #defyhatenow

Juba Monitor, 12th December 2016 #defyhatenow on social media

PeaceTech Lab AFRICA online hate speech lexicon – interview on Radio Miraya

PeaceTech Lab Africa, created by the United States institute of Peace – USIP,is undertaking research into the impact of online hate speech. The research stems from concerns that “countries with rapidly expanding Internet access, such as South Sudan, are also experiencing the spread of online rumors, misinformation, and targeted attacks to exploit political or ethnic differences,” says Theo Dolan, the Director of Peace Tech Lab Africa. Speaking to Radio Miraya Breakfast show, Dolan stressed that online hate speech spread through personal and family networks, and it spreads fast – information can flow very quickly from a diaspora community in Australia to the US and back to South Sudan.

#defyhatenow social media campaign draws peace actors online

On 21st September, International Day of Peace #defyhatenow & partners in Juba (CEPO – Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation), Maban, Rhino Camp Uganda, Kibera, Nairobi and Canada held a social media #peacejam to counter hate speech on the internet.

“Say no to hate speech” – South Sudan’s diaspora urged

South Sudan’s diaspora community is being urged to act more responsibly and control the circulation of hate speech through social media platforms. This was one of the key highlight at a one day round table discussion, held in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi, to draw a consensus on ways to control and prevent hate speech.

The forum organized by #defyhatenow brought together civil society activists and community leaders in the diaspora in discussion with local peace activists. The forum in Nairobi grew out of concerns that hate speech generated by the online community in the diaspora is increasingly becoming a threat to South Sudan.

ROUND TABLE : “Social Media; challenges and benefits”

This week Gabriel Shadar is discussing Social Media. South Sudan has not been left behind in the global ‘social media explosion’. The web-based platforms offer limitless channels of communication, connecting people from one part of the globe to the other. Gabriel and his guests will be looking at how to navigate between the benefits and challenges of social media platforms, with special regard to youth.

Guests: Khamis Cosmas, media officer with the civil society group Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation (CEPO). Hakim George, film maker and co-founder of the ‘Sudanin Junubin’ indigenous facebook page.