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New force to tackle COVID-related fake news in Africa

Africa , 14 Dec 2020

To address the threat of misinformation to COVID-19 control efforts in Africa, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Facebook have announced separate but similar measures.

Announcing what it described as a landmark alliance, WHO said a newly formed Africa Infodemic Response Alliance (AIRA) “will coordinate actions and pool resources in combating misinformation around COVID-19 pandemic and other health emergencies in Africa.”

AIRA is comprised of 13 international and regional organisations and fact-checking groups with expertise in data and behavioural science, epidemiology, research, digital health, and communications.

AIRA’s mandate is to counter false information around COVID-19 vaccines and help raise public health awareness, while also enhancing community engagement efforts by creating demand for vaccines in the region.

“In health emergencies, misinformation can kill and ensure diseases continue to spread. People need proven, science-based facts to make informed decisions about their health and wellbeing, and a glut of information – an infodemic – with misinformation in the mix makes it hard to know what is right and real. This crucial new alliance brings unique reach, knowledge and skills to help stop the impact of dangerous misinformation,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

Facebook’s similarly ambitious move

Facebook said it is actively removing misinformation regarding COVID-19 vaccines. In a statement, the company said it will specifically remove false claims about the safety, efficacy, ingredients or side effects of the vaccines.

“We will not be able to start enforcing these policies overnight. Since it’s early and facts about COVID-19 vaccines will continue to evolve, we will regularly update the claims we remove based on guidance from public health authorities as they learn more,” the social network stated.

WHO revealed that digital platforms have been inundated with COVID-19-related information since the pandemic began in late 2019.

According to the UN Global Pulse, information about COVID-19 has been shared and viewed over 270 billion times online and mentioned almost 40 million times on Twitter and web-based news sites in the 47 countries of the WHO African Region between February and November 2020.

WHO stated: “A large proportion of this information is inaccurate and misleading and continues to be shared by social media users intentionally or unknowingly every day. The COVID-19 infodemic is amplified online through social media but health misinformation is also circulating offline.”

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