Tracking the focus of misinformation circulating on social media is difficult, but African fact-checking organizations say they have debunked more than 1300 misleading reports since the onset of the pandemic.
Viral Facts Africa, a first of its kind African initiative to combat health misinformation online, was launched today by the World Health Organization (WHO) and a network of fact-checking organizations and leading public health bodies.
Viral Facts Africa will leverage the insights and reach of a unique network of 14 organizations to counter health misinformation as it spreads and to "inoculate" people against falsehoods. The initiative is starting with engaging health fact checks, explainers, myth busters and misinformation literacy messages that are optimized for sharing on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
"False claims can spread faster than COVID-19 itself, often because they are simple, visual and tap into our emotions. Viral Facts Africa aims to debunk myths fast right where they spread, and to help people sort life-saving facts from noise. Together, we can stop viral rumours by sharing viral facts," said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
Information on COVID-19 was shared and viewed over 16 billion times and mentioned more than 6 million times on Twitter and web-based news sites between November 2020 and March 2021 in the 47 countries of the WHO African Region, according to UN Global Pulse, The UN Secretary-General's global initiative on big data and artificial intelligence.
Similarly, in the WHO African Region mentions of vaccines rose by over 300% to over 675 000 between December 2020 and February 2021 when compared with the previous two months. The Viral Facts Africa launch comes as 90 million more COVID-19 vaccines are set to arrive in Africa in the coming months.
Tracking the focus of misinformation circulating on social media is difficult, but African fact-checking organizations say they have debunked more than 1300 misleading reports since the onset of the pandemic. Widely shared misinformation includes conspiracies around unproven treatments, false cures and antivaccine messages.
During the testing phase, Viral Facts Africa products were viewed over 20 million times on social media. All products are open for anyone to use and are available in English and French, with more languages planned. The initiative is managed by Fathm, an independent news laboratory and consultancy with global experience of anti-misinformation collaborations.
Viral Facts Africa is a part of the Africa Infodemic Response Alliance (AIRA), a WHO-hosted network that coordinates actions and pools resources to combat misinformation and fill information gaps around the COVID-19 pandemic and other health emergencies in Africa.
Launched in December 2020 with 12 organizations, AIRA brings together the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC), UNICEF, UNESCO, UN Verified, UN Global Pulse, WHO and the fact-checking organizations Africa Check, PesaCheck, Agence France Presse Fact Check, Dubawa and Meedan. The alliance is growing, with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and Ghana Fact also recently joining.
"COVID-19 is not over, and as vaccines are rolled out across Africa, mask wearing, hand hygiene and physical distancing are still key to saving lives. We need a whole-of-society push to keep these messages fresh in people's minds and everyone has a role to play as viral health misinformation costs lives," said Dr Moeti.
Viral Facts Africa was launched at a workshop on health communications for leading African influencers from business, sports, the arts and the media hosted by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the African Union, the Rockefeller Foundation, Access Challenge and WHO.