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Weekly Newsletter on the Ongoing Infodemic: April 20, 2020

5 mins read Important Insights on COVID-19 and Misinformation – A weekly newsletter that takes a closer look at the aspects of truth and falsehood in today’s news topics. In an uncertain time, stay informed about the latest news & updates on coronavirus-related developments in Nigeria.

5 mins read

For most of last month, news columns were filled with sponsors doling out billions of Naira to the Nigerian government. But who exactly is getting the money? How much is it? What projects are being implemented? And if you don’t have access to the funds, what home remedies can you do to cheat death?

Infodemic and crises: often inseparable

A look at trends in Nigeria shows that fear, confusion and hope trump logic during socio-political, economic, religious or public health crises. In truth, during the 2013 general elections, a significant number of killings were perpetrated by young men (politically motivated thugs). This group then successfully encouraged voters to boycott the polls in some states; a feat that has remained a constant feature in all Nigerian elections till date. Economic inequality and government unaccountability have exacerbated secessionist movements in later years; while Ebola and the current Covid-19 pandemic led to a spike in inconceivable fake cures that have proven fatal.

Financial accountability

Because the Nigerian system is often perverse to inquiries, full disclosure by public office holders and susceptible to emotional sways, the odds for false information are high. When news reports surfaced about several donations of about N43 Billion to provide beds for isolation centres, intensive care unit facilities and direct access to medical advice; Nigerians’ rainbow of hope turned to a mere display of colours after fire gutted the office of the Accountant-General. 

It was no wonder that online media was awash with comparisons between the fire and government mismanagement of funds. Sooner than later, the usual suspects took to meme-making webpages to doll out fake pictures to show that “all the billions donated to tackle covid-19 has been burnt as a result of the fire”. Nigeria’s Finance Minister, Ms Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed, was also wrongly quoted to have claimed that the government lost 700 billion naira in donations from individuals to the fire. However, Dubawa debunked both claims, rating them- FALSE.

Fake cures and False information

Similarly, the Nigeria Centre for Disease and Control (NCDC) had to refute rumours that it spent 1billion Naira on educating Nigerians about the coronavirus pandemic through SMS/Text Messages. The post, which started circulating on April 8, has been found on WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter.

As there are no detailed publicly available records of the use of COVID-19 funds and mixed messages, fake news on social media continues to soar. And so also for preventive measures and fake cures because covid-19 is a novel flu that has never been the focus of medical study until recently. And when scientists discuss as-yet-unproven theories, anxious people can take unnecessary risks.

From the viral WhatsApp audio message urging Nigerians to eat garlic three times a day to the very explanatory ‘false’ post that Africans are immune to the virus, different variations of cures and preventive measures seem to surface daily. Our recent fact-check shows that other food items – lemon, lime, avocado – also made the list. At this point, one wonders if hope is still a big motivation for these cures or transcendence to financial incentives.

CORONAVIRUS Q & A 

What Nigerians are asking
  • Can coronavirus be transmitted through fart?

At the moment, experts are not sure, although a doctor raised the issue on social media. In his findings, Australian doctor Andy Tagg cited tests carried out earlier this year which showed 55 per cent of patients with SARS-CoV-2 had it present in their faeces. Still, the jury is currently out on this one. And even if it turns out to be accurate, you are way more likely to catch it by being in close contact with someone who coughs or sneezes, or by picking up droplets (from coughs or sneezes) on your hands when you touch a hard surface, except you intend to use your nose to inhale someone’s fart in very close proximity.

  • Can coronavirus survive in the heat?

Granted, some viruses such as cold and flu viruses spread more quickly in the colder months; still, it does not mean that their activities stop when weather conditions become harsh. As it stands, scientists do not know how temperature changes will influence the behaviour of SARS-CoV-2. Plus, case count in Africa (and Nigeria) shows that coronavirus can survive in hot climates, perhaps not as alarmingly high as colder regions; still, we do not know what other factors could be curtailing its spread.

  • When will coronavirus end?

No one truly knows, but a lot depends on humans practising social distancing, proper hygiene and other measures that reduce human contact. New York Times says that a better question might be: “How will we know when to reopen the country?” For now, let’s stay at home, self-isolate from others in the household if we feel unwell, and contact NCDC if symptoms persist.

  • What are WHO-recommended coronavirus prevention tips?

This information is available on the WHO’s website, but in summary: “Most people who become infected experience mild illness and recover, but it can be more severe for others. Take care of your health and protect others by doing the following:

  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Maintain social distancing
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth
  • Practice respiratory hygiene
  • Stay informed and follow the advice given by your local authorities.”

TIP OF THE WEEK

#FAKENEWS ALERT

There’s precious little that we can do about the barrage of misinformation that we see daily, but there’s a lot we can do together if we learn to identify suspicious claims in the news and refrain from fuelling the fire by spreading them! Here are our top picks of likely-to-be-false news which [sadly] couldn’t be fact-checked.

We added this to our last newsletter, but it’s still in circulation. So we ask again, is it possible to test for a disease over the phone? Has GTBank announced it’s involvement in this? Has there been any news report from credible platforms to corroborate the claim? The answers will tell if the news is genuine or not.

At the time of this publication, vaccines are still in development, with only a small handful in Phase 1 trials, which involves making sure the vaccine isn’t dangerous to humans. Besides, a similar claim that a vaccine trial resulted in the death of seven children in Senegal turned out false.

In essence, know a little about medical procedures and you could save yourself from a bit of misinformation 

Ignoring the spelling errors, when a non-news platform, in its traditional sense, uses the word breaking to disseminate a message on its public page to thousands of viewers with a fake image, the first thing to look out for is the source of the news. As you would assume, there is no citation of a news platform, yet the post garnered 3.6K shares and 609 shares.

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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