The coronavirus outbreak continues to spread and infect more people each day, but the spread of rumors on messaging platforms in Africa is also proving to be dangerous.
Rumors about the COVID-19 virus was a problem before the coronavirus began spreading across Africa, with users sharing information about the virus through Facebook-owned messaging app WhatsApp, according to Weetracker.
WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in most English-speaking African countries including Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa, Quartz reports.
In a time when social distancing and lockdowns are the order of the day, people are desperate for sources of information they can trust.
Many people in Africa do not trust their governments as citizens often consider politicians to be corrupt and deceitful. Africans put more trust in religious and traditional leaders than they do in the government, according to a report by Afrobarometer.
Nigeria recently reported two cases of chloroquine poisoning after it was rumored to be the cure.
U.S. President Donald Trump said during a press briefing that chloroquine was being explored as a treatment option and that he had a hunch it could work.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) quickly refuted Trump’s claims but his comments were enough to produce a stream of WhatsApp messages that went viral urging people to use “Trump-approved” chloroquine to treat and prevent COVID-19.
On March 22, a man in Arizona died when he heard Trump speak about chloroquine. The man ingested a non-medical version of the chemical chloroquine phosphate, used to clean fish tanks, a substance not intended for human consumption.
While that example illustrates the danger of authoritarian figures spreading rumors, it is not the only case.
Other instances of rumors being spread in African countries include the falsehood that Black people are immune to the virus and that people can protect themselves against COVID-19 by washing their hands with children’s urine or consuming cannabis.
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South Africa has criminalized the spreading of fake news which is punishable with six months in jail and fines, according to News24.
A new law states that it’s a crime to intentionally spreading fake news about COVID-19, about those infected with the virus or about government efforts to address the virus.