A recent investigation by media collective Fumbua has revealed disturbing information regarding the marketing practices of major tech companies. They have been allegedly promoting and profiting from the distribution of potentially dangerous and harmful health products targeted at women in Kenya.
Particularly Meta, YouTube, and Google are under scrutiny for their alleged involvement in amplifying content that peddles unproven remedies and wellness products across their platforms.
Investigation Raises Health Concerns over Promoted Products
Researchers from Fumbua have highlighted the concerning practices of these tech giants. They accuse them of hosting and boosting content that promises miraculous but scientifically unsupported cures, such as herbal solutions for infertility and unverified methods to prevent cancers.
Most alarming is the marketing of products like yoni pearls, which are mesh-wrapped herb balls suggested for vaginal insertion to supposedly “cleanse” the uterus and safeguard against cervical cancer.
Another dubious practice highlighted in the investigation is the endorsement of vaginal steaming, a process involving sitting over boiling water, as a treatment for endometriosis.
The investigation underscores that there is no credible scientific basis for any of these proclaimed health benefits.
The Result of Ill-Informed Algorithms
The report emphasizes that Facebook’s algorithms play a significant role in magnifying this content, allowing advertisements for detox remedies to target Kenyan users. Moreover, it also implicates Google and YouTube in this harmful network. They are allegedly profiting from ads promoting vaginal detox products despite the potential health risks they pose.
Vaginas are self-cleaning and contain beneficial bacteria that help prevent infections. Introducing foreign substances or subjecting the vagina to extreme temperatures through steaming can disturb this balance and potentially result in infections, irritation, and other complications.
The lack of scientific evidence supporting these products makes their usage even more concerning, as individuals may unknowingly put their health at risk by following unverified and potentially harmful practices.
Experts Voice Their Opinion
This revelation has sparked concerns over the safety and accountability of these tech giants.
Lead researcher Wanjiru Nguhi expressed her alarm at the brazenness of these advertisements, emphasizing that not only are harmful products being sold openly, but advertisers are also paying to amplify them virally, showing an audacious disregard for potential consequences.
Kristina Wilfore, co-founder of ShePersisted, an initiative dedicated to countering gendered disinformation, stated that scam products are infiltrating the Kenyan market while major tech companies appear inactive in addressing the issue.
Fumbua’s investigation coincides with a period of heightened scrutiny of social media platforms in Kenya. Meta, in particular, is currently facing three lawsuits alleging shortcomings in its content moderation systems.
One lawsuit was filed by Daniel Motaung, a former content moderator who worked for Sama, a subcontractor of Meta. He claims that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after being exposed to graphic and traumatic content on Facebook, and that he was unfairly dismissed for trying to unionize his co-workers. Another lawsuit by two Ethiopians and a Kenyan rights group accuses Meta of failing to prevent the spread of hate speech on Facebook during the civil war in northern Ethiopia, which resulted in thousands of deaths. The third lawsuit was filed by 43 content moderators who allege that they were illegally sacked by Sama and blacklisted by Meta’s new content moderation partner, Majorel.
Because of these legal actions, social media monitoring bodies in the country are paying closer attention on the tech giants.
Misinformation Through Social Media
Kenya is often referred to as the “Silicon Savannah” of East Africa. According to latest internet usage report, around 9.25 million Kenyans use Facebook, 9.44 million use YouTube, and 2.2 million use Instagram. According to a survey by Kenya’s council for responsible social media, nearly half of the users reported encountering misinformation on social media platforms, with only half feeling confident in their ability to identify it accurately.
Disturbingly, the prevalence of so-called “vaginal detox” products has also been bolstered by endorsements from popular celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Vera Sidika.
While both Google and YouTube declined to provide comments, their existing misinformation policies demand that content present a clear danger of bodily harm or be life-threatening for removal.
On its official blog, Google claimed to have blocked or removed 51.2 million adverts due to inappropriate or harmful content in 2022. The company asserted its commitment to combating misinformation but acknowledged the need for further measures.
Fumbua’s researchers argue that more decisive action is required, considering the escalating visibility of such harmful products in This surge in potentially dangerous health trends could serve as an early warning for the broader region.
Marketplaces for similar products already exist in other African nations, including Nigeria and South Africa, where social media plays a pivotal role in e-commerce.
Online Regulation to Protect Women
Researchers called for regulatory measures like in the offline space, questioning why online platforms are allowed to host such content that could be harmful.
Experts believe that the marketing of these products exploits societal pressures on women to conform to unrealistic standards of sexuality and uninformed notions of female hygiene.
Gender specialist Evelyne Opondo stressed the importance of maintaining safe platforms for women and girls, as many individuals turn to the internet for health advice. Opondo advocated for stringent regulation beyond self-regulation to ensure user safety and well-being.