COVID-19 / Responding to COVID-19 and the ensuing misinfodemic: Check Global Regional Event, Africa
Africa COVOD-19 Microgrant Closing Event

While Africa has had the lowest proportion of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths globally, restrictions imposed in response to the pandemic have had an outsized impact on ordinary citizens, with reports of more than 100 other executive measures that have heavily curbed the freedom of movement and of peaceful assembly being put in place in response to the pandemic.

One particularly serious challenge was the rise of false information around the disease, termed as an ‘infodemic’, which resulted from the lack of information and conflicting statements from authorities, and was made worse by bad actors taking advantage of the information vacuum to push their own false messages.

With this in mind, Meedan’s Check Global program organized an event bringing together six microgrant recipients from Africa who had set up projects to respond to these challenges in their countries in various ways, such as setting up platforms to inform the public about the disease, connecting people with these platforms, and finding ways to tackle other related problems that may not have been anticipated, but were manifesting as a direct consequence of COVID-19.

The six grantees are:

  • Individual grantee Cecilia Maundu from Kenya, who ran a campaign on social media to highlight incidents of online violence related to the pandemic

  • People’s Check from Nigeria, who fact-checked and verified viral health misinformation and disinformation that has affected people’s health and lives,

  • Radio Daljir, a Somali language radio station that ran media literacy campaigns and radio reporting in Puntland and Galmudug regions of Somalia to bring health facts to the public

  • Family Health Foundation, who documented human rights violations associated to COVID-19 interventions in Tanzania, in collaboration with human rights defenders, activists and local artists,

  • The Media Challenge Initiative from Uganda, who produced and aired a series of youth-led fact checking news bulletins to debunk fake stories trending on social media,

  • Zéro Pauvre Afrique, a network of volunteers in Guinea, who tracked and deconstructed false information around the COVID-19 crisis in the country and shared this information on a public portal.

Representatives from these organizations, along with Check Global partners PesaCheck and CITE from East and Southern Africa, took part in the event, highlighting the impact of the pandemic on their operations and on the countries and societies they operate in.

One emerging theme was that COVID-19 presented some opportunities for them to engage and share their work with new audiences, while at the same time the limits on movement and restrictions such as curfews and lockdowns made it difficult to operate efficiently.

The participants also acknowledged the fact that the challenges they faced were quite similar despite differences in language and local realities. These include the fact that messaging platforms and social networks played a significant role in the spread of false information.

Two partners, Zero Pauvre Afrique and the Family Welfare Foundation, also worked during elections in Guinea and Tanzania respectively, and they shared their experiences of handling health misinformation during periods of significant political activity. The main lessons that they learnt were on the significance of engaging with other partners and networks, and the need to set up support mechanisms for teams as they worked through these trying times.

Radio Daljir in Somalia and the Media Challenge Initiative in Uganda both work on ‘traditional’ platforms, that is radio and television, so they focused their projects on finding innovative ways to use these platforms to engage existing audiences and attract new ones. One way that Radio Daljir did this was through radio theatre to spread credible health information, while MCI used video bulletins with debunks featuring experts to debunk popular claims circulating on a variety of platforms.

Similarly, People’s Check set up a project to fact-check and verify viral health misinformation and disinformation that affect people’s health and lives in Nigeria, using media and information literacy training to educate those who were likely to fall for false information on how to spot it and avoid sharing it inadvertently.

Cecilia Maundu, the individual grantee from Kenya, looked at an indirect consequence of the pandemic, which is the increase in online violence, particularly against women and girls, by creating a safe space for freedom of expression, as well as highlighting the severity of the problem and discussing mitigation measures.

Out of this event, the microgrant recipients identified various areas of collaboration around COVID-19 given that the pandemic is still ongoing and the number of cases is still rising in the region. False information around the various vaccines being rolled out is likely to be a key area of concern, and this, as the participants pointed out, will need to be addressed quickly and effectively.

The conversation and knowledge-sharing event had been scheduled for two hours, with the partners sharing what they did and the work they undertook with funding from the microgrants, but had to extend by an hour given the amount of work the participants had actually undertaken.

This first microgrant to respond to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic saw a significant response from African organizations working to respond to and curb the impacts of the COVID-19 misinfodemic, and we are looking into other ways to support independent media organizations working in Africa through the Check Global program.

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