With social media, Zimbabwean youth fight pandemic ’infodemic’
JOHANNESBURG/BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, July 23 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Drinking alcohol will kill the coronavirus. It is OK to share face masks. Africans cannot get COVID-19. The pandemic is not even real.
These are some of the coronavirus myths that a team of 20 Zimbabwean youth have been busting online since the country’s lockdown began in late March, using social media and radio shows to reach an estimated 100,000 people to date.
“There is a common saying that ’ignorance is bliss’. Well, in this instance, ignorance is not bliss, if anything ignorance is death,” said Bridget Mutsinze, 25, a volunteer based in the capital, Harare.
Although relatively low compared to the rest of the continent, Zimbabwe is experiencing an uptick in the number of coronavirus infections, with more than 1,800 cases and at least 26 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
To stem the spread of the disease, Zimbabwean youth working with development charity Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) have taken to Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook and radio to comb through online comments, identify and correct COVID-19 misinformation.
The spread of coronavirus misinformation has been a global issue, with the World Health Organization describing it as an “infodemic”.
While tech giants WhatsApp and Facebook have teamed up with African governments to tackle fake news through interactive bots, adverts and push notifications, VSO volunteers are leading the battle within their communities.
Across the continent, 86% of Africans aged 18-24 own a smartphone and nearly 90% use it for social media, according to a survey by the South African-based Ichikowitz Family Foundation.
VSO volunteers are tapping into the informal conversations taking place on these platforms.
“If we do not get facts out there, people will continue to live as they wish and the number of people who get the virus will continue to spread,” Mutsinze told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.