South Africa: Viral Outbreak - Fake News Spreads in Tandem With COVID-19

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With a third of the world's population locked down in their homes, and with wide access to smartphones, in an atmosphere where people are desperate for information, fake news is everywhere. In South Africa, smartphones are abuzz with WhatsApp-ed claims about the coronavirus. They should be greeted with great scepticism.

Almost everyone will have by now received some information about the coronavirus which is wholly false or only partially true. Mostly, the misinformation is being spread on WhatsApp - often by older family members or less tech-savvy acquaintances.

"We have a scenario that is a perfect storm for mis- and disinformation," Media Monitoring Africa director William Bird told Daily Maverick.

"You have fear, low levels of general knowledge of the virus itself, of public health in general, of an invisible enemy and millions of variables."

Bird says that Media Monitoring Africa has already seen a "massive increase" of dodgy news circulating locally during this period.

Thus far, there has been no suggestion that political forces are seeking to exploit the confusion around coronavirus in South Africa to sinister ends - unlike in Europe, where an EU monitoring team claimed that Russian media outlets were spreading disinformation about the pandemic...

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