A new alliance is formed to fight fake Covid-19 news

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  • Africa Infodemic Response Alliance Network is set up to fight Covid-19 fake news
  • South Africa is one of the hot spots for the spread of Covid-19 related misinformation
  • Fighting fake news in the age of WhatsApp proves to be a challenge

South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria are high-risk countries in fake news, or misinformation about Covid-19 being widely spread in the continent, says World Health Organisation’s Director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti.

These countries are categorised as high risk because they have the highest internet penetration on the continent.

“A number of rumours coming from the global north have been amplified significantly when they were mentioned in those countries, leading to spill over to other countries,” Moeti says. 

Speaking at a press briefing on Thursday, Moeti and other United Nation bodies were launching a collaborative effort to fight the spread of fake news on the continent. The initiative is called the Africa Infodemic Response Alliance Network.

This alliance includes the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, United Nations Children's Fund and Africa Check.

Moeti says that the alliance is working on quantifying the impact of false information.

“We do know that a lot of information on Covid-19 is circulating on digital platforms, for example, information about the virus has been shared and viewed over 270 billion times in the African region since the beginning of the pandemic. But it's difficult we're not yet able to say how much of this is misinformation. 

“However, fact-checking organisations in Africa say that they have debunked more than 1 000 of such misleading reports since the pandemic began.

"The quantifying the reach and impact of misinformation is very challenging and is an area of research that the Alliance is actively working on to better understand,” she says.

Moeti says that with the development of the Covid-19 vaccine it is imperative that the correct information reaches people as fake news is harmful.

She says that one of the biggest challenges that they are faced with combating false information are the spread of messages via private messaging services like WhatsApp.

“From social media to street corners, people are hearing conspiracy theories and rumours on the origin of the virus. Its mode of transmission and its severity misinformation harms people's physical and mental health increases stigma and anxiety.

"It threatens precious health gains and reduces adherence to preventive measures like the wearing of masks. During health emergencies, people need proven scientific facts to make informed decisions about their health and well being,” Moeti says.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
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