WHO Launches Initiative to Tackle Misinformation

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Viral Facts Africa, an initiative to combat health misinformation online, has been launched by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Viral Facts Africa will leverage the insights and reach out to a network of 14 organizations to counter health misinformation as it spreads and to guard 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 at the launch.

According to UN Global Pulse, the UN Secretary-General’s global initiative on big data and artificial intelligence, 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.

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.

African fact-checking organizations say they have debunked more than 1,300 misleading reports since the onset of the pandemic whereby the widely shared misinformation includes conspiracies around unproven treatments, false cures and anti-vaccine messages.

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.