But is it right that #KOT is now often referred to as if it were an organised entity, rather than an umbrella term for the growing Kenyan Twitter population? And should it be considered a positive that it proves so powerful a force on the microblogging site? HumanIPO reporters Kamau Mbote and Tom Jackson debate the issue.
The case for: Kamau Mbote
#KOT get things done, whether is forcing CNN to apologise for a story or mobilising carpooling in the wake of a transport strike, and has proved one of the best examples of how social media has allowed the voices of citizens around the world to be heard and helped them implement changes.
In a normal scenario what would it have taken to make a big organisation like CNN to apologise using formal means? One million signatures or a government protest letter? #KOT is slowly becoming the voice of socialites numbering anywhere between 200,000 and 400,000, who have come out shouting when tackling issues that affect them.
Everyone should look at the potential these socialites on Twitter have to push governments for better governance, more funding for schools and the like, especially in the light of the new ‘digital government’ that has come to power.
Who would have thought such a small group of people could become the second most active Twitter users in Africa, after only South Africa, the largest on the continent with over 5 million twitter users and ahead of Nigeria even with a population of 167 million. So active, in fact, Kenya has now been added as a Trends location.
Forget the noise makers who form part of the #KOT group, they are not important. As the local saying says: “Every market does not lack a mad man”. Whether #KOT is a community, a cause or an association it is certain they are a force channelling positive energy.
The case against: Tom Jackson
It cannot be denied that “Kenyans on Twitter” have become powerful, and that in general social media has a power not seen anywhere else to hold governments and companies to account. But it is the abuse of this power by some elements of “#KOT” that is cause for concern.
First of all, it must be made clear that “Kenyans on Twitter” is not an organisation. It is a general term to describe a group of people of the same nationality using the same social media site. When we say “Kenyans on Twitter” we are not referring to an entity but a group of people with widely differing views and lifestyles, who do not speak with one voice but many. To raise it to the level of an organisation or cause, with united goals and ambitions, is to give it a false legitimacy.
If “#KOT” were an organisation, however, outsiders would be justified to raise very serious questions about its behaviour. Many or most of the tweeters who make up #KOT are surely reasonable people with regular jobs who know how to behave in the public space. But what has become painfully evident is that many of those who have fallen under the “#KOT” umbrella are little more than Twitter bullies.
The “Someone Tell..” hashtags have been a case in point. In recent months, “#KOT” has become embroiled in loud Twitter fights with people from Botswana, Nigeria and Uganda. A group of people, probably a minority, has on several occasions managed to take an isolated incident, usually the words or actions of one individual, and use it as an excuse to abuse and vilify an entire nation.
This week’s #SomeoneTellUganda was a case in point, with the vast majority of the comments not reasonable statements about the perceived slight, but vindictive, malicious and sometimes even racist comments about Ugandans, attacking everything from the Ugandan accent to the lack of democracy in the country. The “positive force” supposedly exerted by “#KOT” was lacking. Instead it was left to the idle and the angry to attack a whole nation over the words of one man.
“Kenyans on Twitter” are powerful, that is certain. But it has become clear that this power is liable to be abused by people more concerned with picking a fight than resolving an issue, and that “#KOT” may be becoming more of a problem than a solution.