President William Ruto during a meeting with the TikTok team led by TikTok’s Director of Public Policy and Government Relations, Fortune Mgwili-Sibanda, at State House, Nairobi.
Image: courtesy

For the past few weeks, a heated debate has been witnessed in Kenya on whether social media platform – TikTok should be banned or not.

This is after a petition was presented to the National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula, seeking to compel parliament to ban the platform. 

The petitioner argued that the social media platform is inappropriate and promotes violence, vulgar language, explicit sexual content, and hate speech which is a serious threat to the cultural and religious values in Kenya.

These serious allegations set us on a journey to find answers to all the concerns raised. 

We linked up with TikTok’s Director of Public Policy and Government Relations, Fortune Mgwili-Sibanda and Keagile Makgoba (Communications Manager, Sub-Saharan Africa) for a deeper understanding of all the predicaments befalling/affecting the platform and how they are addressing these issues.

According to Sibanda, he believes in dialogue and they are meeting all the relevant stakeholders to chat the way forward for the platform.

He divulged that already systems have been put in place to deal with rogue creators who want to spoil the party for everyone.

Sibanda noted that he is aware of the petition presented in parliament about Tiktok and its mode of conduct in Kenya.

“We believe that we still need to have discussions within the government itself and the petitioners and us because we all need to be heard. 

“We do acknowledge that some of the issues raised are valid and some of these issues come with gaps in moderation,” Sibanda said.

“This is something that we've also acknowledged in the meeting between President William Ruto and our CEO Shou Zi Chew. So that kind of unsavory content, for the record, is not allowed on the platform, It's illegal and our community guidelines are very clear.”

He further stated that adult nudity and sexual activities are not allowed on TikTok and those found practicing the same are punished severely.

Fortune Mgwili-Sibanda
Image: courtesy

“That kind of content is against our own rules. As much as Kenyans are saying, we don't want to see this on TikTok Kenya, we are also in agreement. We have put in a lot of measures, in terms of our moderation, to try and control or eradicate that kind of content. We use a combination of machines and algorithms that automatically detect and take down explicit content. We issue bans for creators who go against our rules and regulations. We also have human moderators for the local language spoken on the platform.”

Sibanda explained that discussions are ongoing between the government and other stakeholders to make sure TikTok is a safe space for everyone.

He noted that as the TikTok team, they are against banning the social media platform in any country.

“We are against any form of bans because it will affect a lot more people and we truly believe that not the majority of our content is illegal nudity. It’s just something that's happening that we need to clean up and not influence the awesome Kenyan content being driven by the creative community,” he added.

Sibanda acknowledged that TikTok being a user-generated platform will always face problems/challenges but how they are addressed is what matters the most. 

“Since the platform began, some of the challenges that we're seeing now, you may never have anticipated them, because bad actors always create new ways of spreading bad or illegal content.

“So we are always trying to keep up and try to innovate ahead of these threats whenever they come up. Different countries experienced different things and we have seen that whenever there are political disagreements and stuff, people will use different platforms to vent or to protest. Depending on the level of venting or protesting, some venting is allowed because freedom of expression is guaranteed in most of these countries but when it borders incitement or violence then we do not allow that,” he said.

Fortune Mgwili-Sibanda
Image: courtesy

Sibanda explained that what is being witnessed on social media are issues affecting the real world and they are always in a race to eradicate the bad and keep the good. 

Asked whether it’s taking too long for the platform to punish notorious creators Sibanda said;

“Bad content can leak in any situation despite your best plans but it’s about how you react afterward to make sure that it doesn't happen again. And here we issue warnings and even ban users to certain IP Levels so that you cannot create another account."

Sibanda noted that it's nearly impossible to get rid of all the bad content on the platform but that doesn’t stop them from acting on bad actors. 

In the past three months, he said, more than 91 million videos have been pulled down from TikTok for violating various community guidelines. 

“It's in our interests as a brand and a business to be a clean platform… a total ban will affect many creators who are already making a living using the platform and that is why we insist on engaging the relevant authorities for the way forward, he noted.

The TikTok team also addressed copyright issues that affect the platform when it comes to creators who steal other people’s content.

“On copyrights, we do a three-strike system, warning, elevated warning, and then total ban. 

“Transgression is which involves minors, that is nonnegotiable and we not only take down the bad content but cooperate with law enforcement to ensure prosecution as well.”

How many people are using TikToK? This was one of the questions we posed to Sibanda. 

“We have at least 1 billion user monthly active users globally,” he replied. 

During the insightful conversation, Sibanda disclosed that plans are underway to monetise Kenyan content directly and help create new millionaires from the platform.

“Monetisation is in the pipeline for Kenya and other key markets. South Africa is already monetised. That's one of our key markets in Sub-Saharan Africa, then there's also Nigeria and Kenya. So this is a big focus for us. And we're hoping sooner rather than later, we can share some awesome news with you guys, on turning on those features for Kenyan publishers and even individual creators, he explained.

“Monetisation is actually a big part of our business model but again there is no one route to monetisation. Just because we have not turned on the monetisation feature it doesn’t mean you can’t partner with brands and still make money.”

Keagile Makgoba, Communications Manager, Sub-Saharan Africa.
Image: courtesy

He further stated that TikTok has turned on a new feature that allows creators to put content behind a paywall.

“TikTok series allows media houses & creators to put specific content behind a paywall and users can view it as premium content. They pay a certain fee to subscribe and I’m happy our markets are maturing.”

According to the TikTok team, they have no plans to introduce paid verification, unlike other platforms like Meta and X App.

“Don’t stress too much about it, just apply for your verification if you merit. Paid verification is not even a point of discussion on our side because we've got, bigger things that are of interest to our users that we would rather focus on,” said Keagile Makgoba, Communications Manager, Sub-Saharan Africa.

“The platform is for the people by the people. And that's why they are the main focus now, so we are not trying to make people pay for blue ticks anytime soon.”

Sibanda noted that going forward, creators on TikTok will be able to file complaints whenever their videos are used without permission or stolen.

In a separate meeting, President William Ruto and the TikTok team agreed to run a national training program aimed at empowering content creators and helping them monetise their craft.

“Kenyan creatives deserve to make a livelihood from their ability to create good content. TikTok will run a national training programme in Kenya to empower content creators through comprehensive platform knowledge, fostering increased monetisation and promoting positive content,” the president said.