African governments across the continent are teaming up with technology giants including Facebook and WhatsApp to fight misinformation about coronavirus on social media platforms that could propel the pandemic on a continent with shaky healthcare systems.
South Africa, which has more infections than any other African country, with more than 1,300 confirmed cases, has launched an information service about the coronavirus on WhatsApp.
In Nigeria, health officials are partnering with the messaging service owned by Facebook to send push notifications to users with advice on symptoms and how to avoid infection.
From Reuters. Story by Alexis Akwagyiram.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is also getting free ad space on Facebook for outreach about the pandemic, a benefit available to public health authorities in 11 other African countries, and around the world.
Twitter has been tweaking its algorithm to elevate medical information from authoritative sources – an initiative available in 70 countries, including five in Africa.
“There has never been a more critical time than now for us to leverage on social media in sending out the right message,” said Chikwe Ihekweazu, who heads the NCDC.
But governments and tech firms face an uphill battle: as the virus spreads, unfounded rumors are proliferating across multiple platforms.
“Blacks don’t get coronavirus,” said one erroneous tweet seen by Reuters, which was posted by a user in Kenya with nearly 700,000 followers.
“If you think you have it … you must learn to unblock your airway by boiling lemon/ginger & inhaling,” advised another bogus tweet, posted by a user in Nigeria with more than 119,000 followers.
Some governments are now resorting to punitive measures.
In Kenya, at least two men, including a popular blogger, have been arrested for publishing false information about the virus on Twitter, an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison or a fine of 5 million Kenyan shillings ($48,000). Neither has been charged.
South Africa introduced a law in March that makes sharing malicious falsehoods about the virus punishable by up to six months in jail.
Read more at Reuters.