Credible Sources as a Vaccine against Fake News on COVID-19

The dis-misinformation and conspiracy theories on COVID-19 pandemic have continued to present great challenges for medical professionals, social media platforms, journalists, government and concerned citizens. Strongly, the uncertainty induced by Covid-19, has stimulated fear, anxiety, hatred and hate speech. Under this circumstance, there is need for the right narrative; with credible and quality communication and information intervention.  

In addressing this menace, UNESCO Abuja Office organized a Webinar on the theme, “Overriding influence of Dis- Misinformation on the COVID- 19 Pandemic” on April 28, in collaboration with UNIC, WHO and UN Women. According to Macaulay Olushola, the UNESCO Abuja Communication and Information Officer, “The objective of the webinar is to x-ray the various information circulating on Covid-19 and build competencies to empower peole with critical thinking capacity for making informed decisions.” 

In his opening remarks, the UNESCO Regional Director, Ydo Yao reiterated the role played by UNESCO in combating fake news and promoting freedom of expression and access to information under the framework of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. According to him, the webinar was organised to bring together the efforts from communication experts and international community to build resilience in the face of misinformation and ‘fake news’ that proceeded the Covid-19 pandemic.

In her presentation on the truth about COVID-19, Dhamari Naidoo, the Technical Officer for Laboratory Strengthening from WHO indicated that, disseminating correct medical and professional messages is very critical. She said that WHO has partnered with social media platforms like Facebook, TikTok and others to ensure that the right information is shared via these platforms.

In the same view, Patience Ekeoba from UN Women pointed out an increase rate in gender-based violence during the pandemic. She advised that women, especially in rural communities, should partner with local influencers and networks to access the right information.

Speaking on the main theme of the webinar, “Overriding Influence of dis- misinformation on the COVID- 19 Pandemic”, Edward Kargbo from BBC Media Action (Ethiopia) stated that Covid-19 is the first pandemic to occur in the digital and information age, and fake news, rumors, conspiracies and misleading information have become dominant today. “Since the outbreak of the disease, the explosion of dis/misinformation has been accompanied along. It became more difficult for people to get and detect accurate messages,” he stated.  He added that the ‘infodemic’ should not be treated as a ‘seasonal’ issue. He believes that joint efforts and support to empower media development are needed at a time like this.

In his contribution, Jide Atta, a media and gender consultant emphasized that the negative impact induced by dis/misinformation should receive serious attention. Atta reminded the audience on the havoc that misinformation could cause, namely, mental health and stigma of health services. He proposed that, a corresponding and harmonizing framework should be put in place to combat fake news, with cultural sensitivity. Efforts should also be made to reach out to the community level to curb the spread of fake news.

Discussing on another sub-theme, “Engaging the Media and Information Literacy (Educated) Citizens in the COVID-19 pandemic Narrative,” Dr. Olunifesi Suraj, a senior lecturer at the University of Lagos concentrate on the sources and contents of information itself. Suraj’s presentation, calls for the reflection and check on the current narrative of Covid-19, including the channels and publishers, spreading the information. In his point of view, knowledge must guide information, and so that, it will be the light to guide humanity. In his point of view, people should always keep questioning on the terms of ‘truth’ and ‘reality’.

On his part, Mr. Oluwamayowa Tijani, a youth leader reflected on the power influence. He pointed out that forces behind dis/misinformation include political powers, financial powers and soft power (fun, comedy) which is to achieve various gains. Aside from this, Tijani charges the youth who are the majority in the digital era to make best of their time in promoting good values. “Young people have great potential in forcing solidarity to combat dis-misinformation together”, he said.

While reflecting on the UN interventions over the pandemic, Mr. Oluseyi Soremekun introduced the work that has been and are being done on combating the dis/misinformation on COVID 19. Aside from that, he emphasized that people should validate the information before sharing it with anyone else.

At the end of the meeting, it was agreed that, only joint efforts and solidarity among the universal would help the society to find the beacon showing the way forward out of uncertainty, and finally, lead everyone to the shore.

The webinar has in attendance over 100 participants across Africa.


Notes: Video record of the webinar is available.