Armed with social media, Zimbabwean youth combat coronavirus ‘infodemic’

Johannesburg/Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, July 23

Drinking alcohol will kill the coronavirus. It is OK to share face masks. Africans can not get COVID-19. The pandemic will not be even actual.

These are among the coronavirus myths {that a} workforce of 20 Zimbabwean youth has been busting on-line for the reason that nation’s lockdown started in late March, utilizing social media and radio exhibits to achieve an estimated 1,00,000 folks thus far.

“There is a common saying that ‘ignorance is bliss’. Well, in this instance, ignorance is not bliss, if anything ignorance is death,” stated Bridget Mutsinze, 25, a volunteer based mostly within the capital, Harare.

Although comparatively low in comparison with the remainder of the continent, Zimbabwe is experiencing an uptick within the variety of coronavirus infections, with greater than 1,800 circumstances and at the very least 26 deaths, in accordance with a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

To stem the unfold of the illness, Zimbabwean youth working with improvement charity Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) have taken to Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook and radio to comb by on-line feedback, establish and proper COVID-19 misinformation.

The unfold of coronavirus misinformation has been a worldwide situation, with the World Health Organization describing it as an “infodemic”.

While tech giants WhatsApp and Facebook have teamed up with African governments to deal with faux information by interactive bots, adverts and push notifications, VSO volunteers are main the battle inside their communities.

Across the continent, 86% of Africans aged 18-24 personal a smartphone and almost 90% use it for social media, in accordance with a survey by the South African-based Ichikowitz Family Foundation.

VSO volunteers are tapping into the casual conversations going down 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 advised the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

‘Part of the solution’

When Zimbabwe’s lockdown was introduced in March, Christon Zimbizi, a VSO mission supervisor based mostly in Harare, assembled volunteers, together with Mutsinze, and requested them how they thought they may deal with the pandemic.

“We gave them the job of coming up with a plan and a budget and they decided that they could use social media, memes, radio, online videos and WhatsApp stickers in local languages to fight fake news about the virus,” stated Zimbizi.

Zimbabwe has 16 official languages.

According to the Ichikowitz survey, 52% of younger Zimbabweans really feel that faux information severely impacts their skill to remain knowledgeable, even earlier than the coronavirus hit.

Using data offered by the WHO, the volunteers went on-line to dispel misconceptions, inviting a whole lot of Zimbabweans to WhatsApp teams in addition to Twitter and Facebook conversations.

WhatsApp stickers — custom-made pictures that may be shared with contacts — had been designed by the VSO volunteers, with slogans resembling ‘Fake News Alert’ in crimson capital letters and ‘Wash your hands thoroughly b4 you touch your face’.

“I worked with a popular Bulawayo local comedian, Ntandoyenkosi Moyo, to create two videos, one in Shona language and one in Ndebele,” stated Sithandekile Mlauzi, 29, a VSO volunteer.

“We used humour to share accurate information about COVID-19,” stated Mlauzi, who estimated the video reached at the very least 10,000 folks over completely different platforms.

In Gwabalanda, the Bulawayo suburb the place she lives, dozens of residents had been waking up at 6am to run after a hearsay circulated that train would defend them from COVID-19.

Maluzi used social media to share WHO tips along with her neighbourhood.

“Since then the number of people running has decreased now that they have more accurate information,” she stated, scrolling by her pill.

“I feel I’m part of the solution in my community and this encourages me to do more because I am helping them make informed decisions about their daily lives.”


But telling folks they’re incorrect will not be as straightforward at it sounds, stated VSO volunteers.

“It takes a lot of courage and guts to denounce fake news,” stated Terrence Makusha, 28, a VSO volunteer from Masvingo, a metropolis in southeastern Zimbabwe.

Being referred to as a know-it-all and accused of oversaturating folks with data means the volunteers need to face criticism and even threats as they devise new methods to speak, resembling sending movies of songs about faux information.

“Dispelling someone’s post appears as if you want to humiliate them or you are insulting their intelligence. People tend to use an extra muscle to silence me when trying to do what is right,” Makusha stated.

The volunteers’ anti-fake information marketing campaign might be used to assist unfold data round different points resembling reproductive well being and HIV, Makusha added.

But to be actually efficient the combat towards on-line misinformation should come from volunteers and the general public at giant, stated South African advocate Ntando Yola from the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation.

“Each of us needs to be responsible in not spreading panic by sharing unverified messages in communities already struggling to manage the impact of the pandemic on their lives,” stated Yola, including that the identical technique may apply to different well being campaigns.

Gibson Mhlanga, appearing secretary for the Zimbabwean well being ministry, stated it had established a COVID-19 hotline for associated inquiries and is sharing coronavirus data on its social media pages.

For Mutsinze, seeing the success of their work is well worth the occasional on-line pushback.

“It feels like a breakthrough when people respond to our efforts and make lifestyle changes to combat the virus. It may be like a long shot, but it feels like we will be victorious.” (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

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