Facebook promotes access to info on COVID-19 in Africa

…fights misinformation on the pandemic

By Kenneth Matimaire

American social media conglomerate corporation, Facebook Inc has set a series of measures to promote access to credible information and combat the spread of misinformation on COVID-19 on the African continent.

The campaigns have been running under its family of applications, namely Facebook, WhatsApp Messenger and Instagram as early as February.

Through its Facebook social network, the entity expanded its Coronavirus Information Center across 40 African countries.

The information centre is a centralized place for users to find information and resources from trusted health authorities, as well as actions they can take to stay healthy and support their families and community.

It is featured at the top of News Feed and is automatically translated in more than 40 languages to make the content as accessible as possible.

Facebook further partnered over 20 health authorities in several African countries which have been enabled to run Coronavirus campaigns on its flagship social media network.

In an email interview, Facebook said they are committed to help keep people safe and informed on the pandemic.

“People use our services to get the latest news about the outbreak, to share their stories and to stay connected to friends and family. Our priority is making sure everyone can access credible and accurate information. We work hard to ensure that we’re providing accurate and reliable information across our family of apps,” said the Facebook spokesperson.

“We’re supporting local African countries impacted by COVID-19, for example in South Africa we’re working with the National Department of Health and our local partner Praekelt, through this partnership we rolled out COVID-19 Connect, a WhatsApp-based helpline developed to deliver accurate health information. We’re running similar campaigns in Nigeria and Senegal.

“On Facebook we’re also working with over 20 local health authorities in countries such as Nigeria, Senegal, Benin, Cameroon, Ghana and Kenya to name a few, we’re enabling them to run Coronavirus education campaigns on Facebook,” added the spokesperson.

The development comes at a time when Africa is expected to join the global community to commemorate the International Day for Universal Access to Information which is marked every year on 28 September.

Facebook also indicated that they have spread the campaign across their family of applications such as WhatsApp Messenger and Instagram.

They launched the World Health Organization’s Health Alert on WhatsApp, which is free to use and provides daily situation reports, tips and FAQ.

The social networks conglomerate is further combating the spread of misinformation on the pandemic on its platforms.

This comes at a time when most African governments and health institutions have been struggling to dispel false and unverified information on the pandemic.  

“We’re limiting hoaxes and misinformation, for example removing false claims and conspiracy theories that have been flagged by leading global and local health organizations. We’re blocking people from running ads that try exploit the situation.

“We are also blocking or restricting hashtags used to spread misinformation on Instagram, and are conducting proactive sweeps to find and remove as much. Misinformation is an ongoing challenge that is why we have, and continue to move quickly to stop hoaxes and misinformation about COVID-19, both locally and globally,” said the spokesperson.

Moreover, Facebook’s subsidiary WhatsApp is also running a pilot fact-checking campaign across selected countries in its bid to stamp out misinformation of the pandemic.

In Africa, they are working with local third party fact-checking partners – AFP, France 24, Africa Check, Pesa Check and Dubawa who review content and debunk false claims related to the coronavirus.

The fact checking exercise is also supported in vernacular languages like Igbo, Afrikaans, Zulu, Setswana, Sotho among others.

This is prefixed on the basis that a number of health ministries in Africa now use WhatsApp as a way to respond to questions from their citizens. For instance South Africa and Nigeria have set up a WhatsApp help line to answer questions in relation to Covid- 19.

WhatsApp also introduced a few product changes to reduce and address virality, and prevent abuse, by pegging a limit on forwarded messages to just five chats at once, making WhatsApp one of the few technology companies to intentionally constrain sharing.

“This reduced the amount of forwarded messages on WhatsApp by over 25 percent,” Facebook stated.