By Ijeoma Olorunfemi
Communication experts on Tuesday said that fake news majorly circulated via social media platforms have complicated the fight against the spread of COVID-19 in African countries.
The experts drew the conclusion during a Webinar monitored in Abuja and hosted by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in collaboration with WHO, UN Women and UN Information Centre (UNIC).
News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Infodemic is an excessive amount of information about a problem, such that the solution is made more difficult.
Mr Edward Kargbo, an official with BBC Media Action, Ethiopia, said fake news travelled half round the world before the truth emerged.
Kargbo recalled that the WHO, in February, warned against an infodemic which could spread faster than COVID-19.
He also said misinformation was a common historical element in pandemics, which could be in form of fabricated content or parody, emanating from influential people for different reasons.
“Misinformation is usually transmitted through social media and in some cases from person-to-person and this competes with the truth.
“Infodemic is not new and the current ecosystem makes it easier for viral misinformation to fester and spread.
“There is need for global efforts to support, empower local media, prioritise media literacy for creation of awareness to the public,” he said.
Mr Mayowa Tijani, a Fact-Checking Journalist with Agence France Press (AFP) blamed the spread of false information on the youth and tussle for power.
According to Tijani, people need to interrogate information they receive especially on social media platforms before accepting them.
“Power play affects misinformation and this can be for political, financial or soft reasons.
“A political party in power can decide to inflate the number of tests done for COVID-19 so as to be presumed as hard-working and bloggers can publish fake news for clout and more cash.
“Soft power comes from the intent for fun, but can end up causing harm in the society,” Tijani said.
He said that the youth could channel the energy used in influencing and disseminating fake news into shutting it down to ensure efforts made to contain the virus were not futile.
Dr Olunifesi Suraj, Senior Lecturer, Mass Communication Department, University of Lagos, said in the current information economy, information and its propagation media were not neutral.
Suraj stated that information was not knowledge and an informed person might not be knowledgeable, adding that knowledge must guide information.
According to him, knowledgeable information can stop infodemic.
“If we can get educated people and not mere informed persons to share knowledge on a subject matter, we would have been able to tame the infodemic monster efficiently and tackle the pandemic effectively.”
He said that infodemic on COVID-19 thrived because the root of the disease could not be ascertained, hence peddling of wrong information from different sources.
The lecturer said that the mainstream media should champion pushing right information in spite of certain irresponsibility on social media platforms.
Suraj, however, advised that relevant agencies should ensure they provided the real information as regards the fight against the spread of the disease to avoid peddling of wrong information by unguided citizens. (NAN)