Digital Action’s Executive Director Anne Ikiara reflects on a new report which shows Big Tech is targeting harmful health products at Kenyan women, and how we can hold them to account.
I recently attended the launch of a new report “Online health scams for sale: How Google, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram Allow Dangerous Health Products to be Targeted at Kenyan Women. And make money from it.” by Fumbua, in collaboration with #ShePersisted, Reproductive Health Network Kenya, and the Council for Responsible Social Media.
As a Kenyan woman, and gender and equity advocate, I was distressed to learn how Big Tech companies profit from dis/misinformation around harmful sexual reproductive health products, which they market on their platforms to unsuspecting and vulnerable Kenyan women. Fumbua’s investigation revealed that Meta, YouTube and Google are permitting the advertising and sale of unapproved and dangerous medical treatments to women in Kenya.
The report gives a blow by blow account of how Big Tech companies allowed dangerous health products to be targeted at Kenyan women as they continue to profit from it. Despite the exposure to negative publicity and obvious harm to innocent Kenyan women, advertisement of the suspected harmful product still dots the Kenyan cyberspace unabated. These treatments exploit misinformation about health and pose a significant risk to the women who purchase them.
In Kenya, where access to reliable healthcare information is limited, Facebook and Google’s failure to regulate such content is particularly concerning. Immediate action needs to be taken to address this issue and ensure that tech companies take responsibility for the safety of their users. In this video, you can hear a testimonial from a woman who used the product and the negative impact it had on her health.
“Despite tech company policies banning miracle cures and health misinformation, these treatments are being actively marketed and sold on Facebook and Google, with no apparent repercussions.”
Global media can help us hold Big Tech accountable
The “Yoni craze” issue was first covered by a Kenyan newspaper but despite its countrywide reach, Big Tech companies continued to ignore the issue. Their indifference continued despite the Kenyan pharmacy and poisons board cautioning citizens on the unregulated nature of the product. It was only when the issue was picked up by The Guardian, a western newspaper with global reach, that Big Tech responded.
While this situation is disparaging to Kenyans and other global majority countries, it gives weight to Digital Action’s theory of change that Western media houses, journalists and other people of influence should join the tech accountability movement. Global media pressure can force big tech companies to pay attention to the harmful content on their platforms and lead to positive change.
Collaboration is key to protect human rights from Big Tech
Some of the speakers at the report launch gave harrowing accounts of the pressure they had received as a result of exposing the profiteering from harm by Big Tech. To insulate themselves and each other from strategic lawsuits and pressure to drop their positions, cooperating is imperative. The keynote speaker from Kenya’s National Commission on Human Rights spoke about the sections of the Kenyan constitution that are violated by Big Tech companies when they allow unmoderated harmful content to flourish online.
Despite this reality, it was affirming to be with like-minded individuals converse with government officials, Kenyan journalists, human rights defenders, policy makers, researchers and other notable figures in the mis/disinformation ecosystem. The continued role of dis/misinformation in the upcoming 2024 elections coloured every conversation. I left the room feeling animated and so full of energy to push the Global Coalition for Tech Justice agenda forward. It was exciting to meet and interact with some of the coalition partners like Leah Kimathi, Election Security Specialist and Convener, Council for Responsible Social Media. We remain steadfast in following up on the contacts made as we increase our coalition partners and ultimately force big tech companies to make the ecosystem safe equitably across the globe.