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African governments team up with tech giants to fight coronavirus lies

ABUJA (Reuters) – Governments throughout Africa are teaming up with era giants together with Facebook and WhatsApp to battle incorrect information about coronavirus on social media platforms that might propel the pandemic on a continent with shaky healthcare programs.

A person opens the Facebook web page on his pc in Abuja, Nigeria March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

South Africa, which has extra infections than another African nation, with greater than 1,300 showed circumstances, has introduced a data carrier in regards to the coronavirus on WhatsApp.

In Nigeria, well being officers are partnering with the messaging carrier owned via Facebook to ship push notifications to customers with recommendation on signs and how you can steer clear of an infection.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) could also be getting loose advert area on Facebook for outreach in regards to the pandemic, a receive advantages to be had to public well being government in 11 different African international locations, and world wide.

Twitter has been tweaking its set of rules to carry clinical knowledge from authoritative assets – an initiative to be had in 70 international locations, together with 5 in Africa.

“There hasn’t ever been a extra crucial time than now for us to leverage on social media in sending out the suitable message,” mentioned Chikwe Ihekweazu, who heads the NCDC.

But governments and tech corporations face an uphill combat: because the virus spreads, unfounded rumours are proliferating throughout more than one platforms.

“Blacks don’t get coronavirus,” mentioned one inaccurate tweet observed via Reuters, which was once posted via a consumer in Kenya with just about 700,000 fans.

“If you suppose you have got it … you should learn how to unblock your airway via boiling lemon/ginger & breathing in,” suggested some other bogus tweet, posted via a consumer in Nigeria with greater than 119,000 fans.

Some governments are actually resorting to punitive measures.

In Kenya, no less than two males, together with a well-liked blogger, had been arrested for publishing false details about the virus on Twitter, an offense punishable via as much as 10 years in jail or a high quality of five million Kenyan shillings ($48,000). Neither has been charged.

South Africa presented a regulation in March that makes sharing malicious falsehoods in regards to the virus punishable via as much as six months in prison.

Public well being officers fear such posts will pressure up the selection of infections – recently round 6,000, in line with a Reuters tally – on a continent beset via overburdened well being amenities. Many know from painful enjoy how shared incorrect information can gas a perilous epidemic.

False claims that garlic, beetroot and lemons are an efficient selection to anti-retroviral medicine – counseled via a former South African well being minister – contributed to masses of 1000’s of deaths on the peak of the AIDS epidemic within the 2000s, in line with Harvard University researchers.

And bogus rumours that overseas support staff had been bringing Ebola into communities hampered the reaction to 2 main outbreaks in Africa prior to now six years.


As coronavirus circumstances build up in Africa, equivalent false rumours are surfacing once more, amplified via social media.

Shoppers in Addis Ababa mentioned costs of garlic and lemon had tripled inside of days of Ethiopia confirming its first case.

“These are sought after for medicinal functions,” mentioned ginger dealer Abebe Tene. “I’m protective myself via placing garlic in a single aspect of my nostril and ginger within the different.”

Seemingly reasonable tactics to overcome a deadly disease that has killed greater than 46,900 other people international have huge enchantment on a continent the place cleaning soap and blank water for hand washing are out of achieve for plenty of.

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa made transparent his worry when he declared a countrywide crisis in March.

“Perhaps the best risks to our nation at the moment are concern and lack of knowledge,” he mentioned. “We will have to forestall spreading faux and unverified information and growing additional apprehension and alarm.”

The nation’s well being division advanced its WhatsApp carrier with South Africa-based non-profit, the usage of gadget studying era. Users who ship the phrase “hello” to a WhatsApp quantity can get questions responded on subjects together with myths, signs and coverings.

The WHO spotted the carrier and partnered with to release its personal model on March 20. It receives about 100,000 enquiries in keeping with hour, in line with the group’s founder, Gustav Praekelt.


Facebook, along side social media competition together with Twitter and YouTube, has barred customers from posting destructive details about COVID-19 on its platforms.

The corporate is operating with third-party fact-checkers in 15 sub-Saharan African international locations to spot and take away such posts from Facebook, mentioned its regional spokeswoman, Kezia Anim-Addo. WhatsApp is piloting a equivalent effort in Nigeria, amongst different international locations.

But the quantity of posts on COVID-19 is just too top to catch each and every problematic declare, mentioned Siphesihle Hlela, Africa strategic director at international media intelligence corporate Meltwater.

Many rumours start lifestyles on one platform, best to be copied and shared on others.

Post are regularly written in pidgin English or lesser-known African languages, so will not be picked up via instrument that directs posts to fact-checkers, mentioned Adebola Williams, founder and leader government of Nigerian media consultancy Red.

Messages on WhatsApp are encrypted, so will best be checked if a consumer stories them.

Last 12 months Facebook restricted the selection of occasions a WhatsApp message may also be forwarded to 5, in an try to curb the unfold of rumours.

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But deceptive knowledge nonetheless will get thru.

In Lagos, artist Aderemi Adegbite shook his head at a false hearsay on WhatsApp that the federal government supposed to spray coronavirus-fighting chemical compounds from a aircraft.

“These messages are in reality a large downside, despite the fact that they appear or sound humorous,” he mentioned. “We are in a major scenario.”

Additional reporting via Ayenat Mersie in Nairobi, Tim Cocks in Johannesburg, Paul Carsten and Abraham Achirga in Abuja, Nneka Chile and Seun Sanni in Lagos; Editing via Alexandra Zavis and Giles Elgood

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