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The Fact-Checker: June 22, 2020

4 mins read

In a world of Covid-19, what factors drive false information in Nigeria?

When it has to do with politics, it is clear – political dominance. But when it is in the realm of health, you begin to wonder who is benefiting and why? 

Manipulated information, in whatever form it is presented, has always been deployed as a tool for societal influence. This practice had existed from our barely recorded pre-colonial past to the 19th/early 20th-century period where European colonial historians painted the African continent as dark and uncivilized in order to exploit its natural resources, to the post-colonial era when the scramble for political and economic resources within Africa left people willing to do just about anything. 

Relating the prevalence of false information to Nigeria’s recent political history, the results of different media analyses show that the motivations for spreading unverified information could be financial or ideological. In both instances, the propagators of fake news are not solely dystopian figures, happy to drop seeds of falsehood systematically. Instead, they include a fine blend of expert manipulators and active but naive citizens who, through unguarded emotions, fuel online disorder in an unregulated digital space.

In the case of a public health crisis, similar trends still exist. An analysis of over 300 fact-checks conducted in Nigeria in 2020 showed that social media platforms shared covid-19-related misinformation to drive traffic to their websites or by the average Nigerian whose emotions got triggered by a post. For instance, this post by a health and fitness blog authoritatively proffers a cure and appeals to general authority (i.e. ‘Chinese doctor’, ‘patient’) to gain credibility. Although the page is not directly asking for financial remuneration, the structure of social media platforms means that more page views mean an increase in advertising revenue from brands who leverage audience reach.

On the other hand, the popularity of chloroquine as the cure for Covid-19 may have been as a result of many factors, not limited to the familiarity of the treatment to Nigerians who previously had used it as a drug for malaria; the need to share an alleged cure that could save lives; and the effect of the American president’s endorsement of the drug. A Twitter user says: “chloroquine that was banned in Nigeria has proved to be an antiviral drug for coronavirus after showing promising results in trials across ten hospitals. Who would’ve thought chloroquine?”

The factors for deploying manipulated information may vary, but the effect is the same–to take advantage of the target of the message. Still, the remedy to such manipulation is obvious: increasing the capacity of readers or audience to separate the wheat from the chaff through exposure to media literacy, critical thinking, and fact-checking.  

Coronavirus Q & A 

Are valve face masks effective against COVID-19?

Coming with the ease of lockdown is the incorporation of the newfound normal – wearing a facemask. As there are no vaccines or cure for COVID-19, many nations have adopted the use of facemasks to protect against the virus.

With this development, different types of masks have been seen, including the valve facemasks which have been subjected to criticisms, stating that of all masks, it is least effective even fabrics masks are rated above them. According to abcnews, “While valve masks outwardly appear like a technological step up from a homemade cloth or a standard surgical mask, an old fashioned cloth or surgical mask is actually superior for the COVID-19 pandemic.”

These types of facemasks are designed to ease respiration and decrease humidity for the wearer; they do not block transmission of COVID-19 because they allow exhaled air and droplets to escape. This is, however, in contradiction with CDC’s guidelines for wearing a face cover which says to keep your exhaled breath and droplets to yourself.

When are domestic flights resuming?

As a precautionary measure and response to the pandemic, Nigeria placed a ban on domestic and international flights in March, giving room for only essential trips. On June 1, Nigeria announced that domestic flights were going to resume June 21. However, On Thursday, June 18 during the daily Presidential Taskforce briefing, the Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Musa Nuhu, disclosed that the initial resumption date had been shifted because it is no longer feasible. 

He said the aviation industry has not yet adjusted to the current public health reality.

Are Public Toilets safe for you?

Recall that a person can be infected with COVID-19 when he touches an infected surface then uses the contaminated hands to touch the eyes, nose or mouth, also by inhaling droplets from an infected person. 

With that being said, it is important to note that research has shown that Coronavirus can be present in the faeces of an infected person. Also, Scientists have said that flushing a toilet can generate a cloud of aerosol droplets that rises nearly three feet. These droplets are capable of remaining viable in the air for a long time, and possibly can be inhaled by anyone that goes in after. These droplets can also land on surfaces in the bathroom. Therefore, sharing a toilet exposes one to the risk of contracting the virus.

Tip of the week 

#FakeNews Alert 

SERAP Sues Health Ministry, NCDC Over ‘Failure To Account For COVID-19 Money’ – SOURCE: ONLINE BLOG (LondonPost)

Always keep an open mind when going through news reports about COVID-19 funds, especially one from an unreliable source. Dubawa has carried out checks on similar claims, and they turned out false.

ITALIAN MINISTRY OF HEALTH-UPDATE – SOURCE: WHATSAPP MESSAGE

Usually, WhatsApp messages are reminiscent of fake or manipulated stories. Pay little attention and detach your emotions from them. In this case, available news reports and scientific materials jointly support that coronavirus is a virus and antibiotics have no effects on them. This is a pointer, raising red flags on the contents of the WhatsApp message. Watch out for other inferences in the message, be sure to verify before forwarding to another.

AWARENESS ON A NEW STRAIN OF COVID-19 – SOURCE: WHATSAPP MESSAGE

Check for the source of this message, Is he credible? Who is his/her source? Has any trustworthy platform published this information? What are health authorities saying?

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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