The African continent is now experiencing a sharp rise in the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus disease that was predominant in Asia and Europe. In recent times, Africa has seen the number of cases rise from 600 around March 18, 2020, to 6,473 as at today, April 2, 2020.
Apart from dealing with the rapid spread of the disease, compounded with poor health facilities, the continent has to contend with a lot of misinformation and fake news, especially on various social media platforms.
The misinformation is partly fueled by deep distrust of government. It is emerging as a major obstacle in the continent, where poor health facilities will aid the rapid spread of the coronavirus disease.
Some messages that went viral on social media platforms were filled with fake news and unfounded advice with respect to the disease.
As a result of this, governments across the African continent are teaming up with technology giants like Facebook and WhatsApp to fight the misinformation that is being spread about the coronavirus on social media platforms.
In the most populous country in Africa, Nigeria, health officials are collaborating with the messaging service owned by Facebook to send push notifications to users with advice on symptoms and prevention of the covid-19 disease. When the first case was disclosed in Nigeria, some Nigerians started flying the conspiracy theory, which was that it was a ploy by the government to cash in on funds from international donor agencies and embezzle the money that would be made available for this campaign.
The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is also getting free ad space on Facebook for outreach about the pandemic. Other public health institutions in 11 other African countries and around the world are beneficiaries of this service.
The Director-General of NCDC, Chikwe Ihekweazu, said, “There has never been a more critical time than now for us to leverage on social media in sending out the right message.’’
The South African government has launched an information service about the coronavirus on WhatsApp. The country, which has more confirmed cases of covid-19 than any other African country, has been bedevilled with manipulated government documents with misleading coronavirus advice.
South Africa introduced a law in March that makes sharing malicious falsehoods about the virus punishable by up to six months in jail.
Kenya has not been left out of various cases of misinformation as 2 men, including a blogger, were arrested for engaging in misinformation about the disease on Twitter. One of the Twitter messages which was posted by a user that has 700,000 followers said, “Blacks don’t get coronavirus.”