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Weekly Newsletter on the Ongoing Infodemic: April 27, 2020

6 mins read

The Gates and The GateKeepers

Over the years, the Gates family have been the subject of numerous controversies, mostly because of their extensive support for vaccination. Vaccination has become a much-debated and sometimes hate-filled topic that has made major social media platforms update their policies to tackle the spread of anti-vaccine misinformation. Although there is a scientific, ethical, political and even religious premise to anti-vaccinationists’ arguments, some studies suggest that these assertions are baseless. For instance, researchers found a financial motivation to the popular theory that MMR vaccine causes autism, for which the authors have been accused of falsifying data. 

In 2010, the Gateses announced, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that they plan to spend $10 billion on vaccine development and deployment over the next decade. “We must make this the decade of vaccines,” Microsoft founder Bill Gates said. In 2015, Bill Gates gave a now-viral TEDTalk on the possibility of a pandemic affecting nations in the future.

Thus, it is no surprise that over the past week, Bill and Melinda Gates were the centre of attention. Amidst allegations of  Covid-19 being the result of a Wuhan lab experiment, the Gates’ (alongside the Obama administration) are being blamed for funding coronavirus research in Wuhan and indirectly causing the spread of the virus. On Tuesday, documents containing 277 email addresses from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 20 from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), and nearly 7,000 from the World Health Organization were leaked online. All three organisations have been the subject of conspiracy theories that blame them for the spread of the coronavirus.

Further implicating Bill Gates in the 5G-Covid-19 debacle, a Facebook user claims that Bill Gates, a confirmed Freemason, is using vaccination to implant microchips in people, ultimately introducing the biblically forewarned 666 movements. Worse still, the post amassed over 66.1 thousand views. Another Facebook user twists the words of Bill Gates in an opinion piece resembling a news article. He claims that “Bill Gates suggests depopulation in Africa to reduce pressure on Europe” through his vaccines that secretly sterilise millions of Kenyan women. However, Africa Check revealed that not only is the sterilisation claim more than 20 years old but that the World Health Organization and others have repeatedly debunked it. 

Perhaps it’s as a result of these allegations that Melinda Gates decided to divorce her husband – an entirely made-up story that prompted a factcheck by Dubawa. Very recently, Melinda Gates granted an interview with CNN’s Poppy Harlow, where she detailed the Foundation’s plans to develop a vaccine as a means to end the pandemic. 

Two things to note about false information that was evident in most of the outlined claims – (1) Authors provide little or no information around the event serving as the foundation for their clams (2) wrong information is rarely entirely fabricated; instead, it’s an overstretch of a real event.

The Gatekeepers

“Eneke the bird says that since men have learned to shoot without missing, he has learned to fly without perching.”

― Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart

The reality of the current media space is such that a wide range of actors can be classified as news organisations, whether by their certifications or mere practise of posting news items consistently, thereby creating a brand previously regulated by journalism. This leeway has led to increased fluidity between trusted and untrusted sources of information. Even among the seemingly trusted sources, a further dichotomy exists between verified and unverified information emanating from these sources at various times.

Sometimes, news organisations inadvertently spread misinformation; other times, actors deliberately and systematically misinform to favour clickbait and “things that appeal to the lowest common denominator”. Recently, Newsflashngr.org published an article on Facebook headlinedUlcer killed our beloved Abba Kyari not coronavirus – Lai Mohammed explains to Nigerians how he died”; however, a simple click of the link leads to a website with different content – and advertisement for scholarships! Newsflashngr.org also published an article on Facebook headlinedBreaking: APC Chairman Adams tests positive to coronavirus, refuses to go into isolation…”; however, the website yet again contains only advertisements! Both articles garnered thousands of views in 24 hours.

In a similar vein, Dailytimes.ng published an article on Facebook headlinedBoko Haram leader says he’s ready to surrender.” But we find that the keywords in the headline are avoided in the body of the report.  The closest to the statement was “the terror leader, Abubakar Shekau, may soon surrender.”

Igbowatch, Biafra Republic, Wisereporters.com and “friends of the punch newspaper” simultaneously claimed that Buhari, speaking to journalists, had said that he wanted to resign amidst the coronavirus outbreak. There was no mention of the event or a direct quote from the speech. Interestingly,  this was not the first time these accounts would publish false news. During the 2019 elections, these sites alongside others mentioned in this report shared stories that were sensational, unsourced or incorrect; these news-like items essentially trigger feedback algorithms. While one may argue, theoretically, that ethical news channels hold sole responsibility for gatekeeping; practically, this is unfeasible. This is especially true when we realise that we live in a world where “fake news” often competes with “real news,” and blogs and online mediums pretend to be certified news reporters. And by their actions, they have now assumed the role of gatekeepers; thus controlling information flow and shaping public discourse and decisions. Hence, we humans (and other actors who pass the “I am not a robot” test) must become their gatekeepers, creating a filter of information for their sanity and survival.

Coronavirus Q & A 

How is Nigeria fairing in testing for COVID-19?

It has been established by the World Health Organization and acknowledged by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) that to halt the further spread of the pandemic, there has to be a high intensity of testing for the virus.  

Meanwhile, Nigeria has 12 functional testing facilities in eight states with a capacity to conduct a minimum of 1,500 tests per day in Lagos and 1,000 tests per day in FCT and other states. Consequently, 2,500 tests are held daily in the country.

However, the country has plans to scale up testing as the epidemic intensifies.

Are COVID-19 corpses contagious? 

SARS-CoV-2 (the proper name for the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19) can remain infectious on different surfaces for varying amounts of time. SARS-CoV-2 has also been detected in respiratory, faecal and blood specimens. Although NCDC has made it known that the dead bodies of COVID-19 patients are generally not infectious, there is still a potential risk of transmission if there is direct contact with human remains or bodily fluids where the virus is present, or direct contact with contaminated fomites.

Can babies be infected with COVID-19?

Yes. While there have been reports of some babies infected with the virus, adults constitute the majority of confirmed cases. Therefore, adults and children alike are susceptible to the virus. Nevertheless, the WHO has identified people who are at a higher risk, and they are not infants.

What does coronavirus do to your body?

The virus develops in stages. During the incubation period, the virus gets into your body when you breathe it in or touch a contaminated surface and then your face. It attaches its spiky surface proteins to the cells lining your throat, airways and lungs and keeps reproducing. An infected person may not have symptoms at this stage.

Later, the virus becomes more visible as your body tries to fight off the foreign body. Body aches, sore throats, a headache and dry cough, are common symptoms. At this stage, water, rest and some antibiotics can help as your immune system fights off the virus.

If the disease progresses, it moves to the severe stage where there’s too much inflammation in the lungs of those infected. At this stage, some people will need a ventilator to breathe. And at the critical stage, organs in the body begin to shut down, and there is a real chance of death. 

(This is a simplification of a complex phenomenon. For more details, read this article)

What can you do? 

Be alert, share our tip and don’t share false news! 

#FakeNews Alert 

It’s quite mainstream that anyone, irrespective of age, is susceptible to the infectious disease and babies have been reported to have contracted the virus. Nonetheless, it is important to be suspicious of claims about people who have been infected if credible news platforms or relevant authorities do not publish it. We do not want a repeat of previous incidents where people consume an overdose of natural foods (garlic) or salt in a frenzied bid to prevent death.

The best time to attract a broad readership to your news platform is now! Everyone is at home or should be at home (except essential workers) and the average time spent on internet devices has increased. Hence, news platforms are struggling for your attention by using catching headlines that are either untrue or misleading. In this case, the WHO suggested that the virus “most likely has an animal origin and ecological reservoir from bats”. This is not a fact yet as the headline suggests.

While there has been news of mysterious deaths in Kano, it is yet to be established that the cause is the novel coronavirus. Therefore, as the country is battling the infectious disease, tweeting about a community transmission is logical speculation but not factual. However, in order not to raise unnecessary panic, do not share until verified.

Ebele Oputa is a frontline leader who helps organizations do new things or do existing things more efficiently. She has provided strategic, technical and programmatic oversight as well as editorial support of Dubawa since its inception. She is an experienced Programme Officer with a demonstrated history of working in the non-profit organization management industry including the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime. Skilled in Negotiation, Training, Leadership, Project Management, and Strategic Communications, Ebele has a Master of Laws (LLM) focused on International Trade and Commercial Law from Durham University.

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