Two weeks ago, a petition was filed in Kenya, urging Kenyan legislators to consider measures against TikTok’s potential erosion of societal values. The petition called for either banning the platform or implementing effective internet content regulations. Amidst the pandemonium, TikTok announced plans to establish its regional headquarters in Kenya last Friday. This announcement followed a meeting between TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew and Kenyan President William Ruto. Chew stated that TikTok is committed to collaborating with the Kenyan government to ensure the platform’s safe and responsible use. He also pledged to enhance TikTok’s content moderation policies and practices to ensure fairness, transparency, and consistency.
Is this the answer to Kenya’s concerns?
TikTok’s move could prove mutually beneficial for both the platform and Kenya. With over 8.8 million social media users as of January 2021, according to Statista, Kenya boasts a substantial market. Additionally, TikTok has the potential to create job opportunities for Kenya’s young population, grappling with a high unemployment rate of 17.6%.
On a broader scale, TikTok’s presence in Kenya could significantly impact African content creators, who currently do not monetize their videos on the platform. TikTok could introduce a revenue-sharing model, akin to Twitter’s recent initiative, to reward creators based on their engagement metrics. TikTok could also play a role in promoting and celebrating Africa’s rich and diverse culture. This could involve featuring more local content on its platform, including campaigns or challenges that showcase the beauty, history, or traditions of different African countries or regions.
Despite these opportunities, concerns loom over TikTok’s operations in Kenya. It’s worth noting that TikTok isn’t the first social media platform to face a ban threat in Africa. In June 2021, Nigeria suspended Twitter indefinitely after it removed a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari that threatened secessionists. Although the ban was eventually lifted, Twitter had to meet some of the government’s demands, such as paying applicable taxes and establishing a legal entity within Nigeria. These demands, however, remained unmet even after Nigeria lifted the ban.
Furthermore, social media platforms operating in Africa may grapple with ethical dilemmas, including balancing freedom of expression with cultural sensitivity, addressing hate speech and incitement to violence, and safeguarding user data and privacy. TikTok’s CEO has expressed a commitment to respecting the laws and norms of each country and ensuring content moderation in line with community standards.
TikTok’s strategic decision to establish its regional headquarters in Kenya signifies its dedication to the Kenyan market. As Africa’s population continues to grow and urbanize rapidly, social media platforms must adapt and innovate to meet the evolving needs and expectations of their users.