The current situation in Africa has made it clear that ‘alternative facts’ can be life-threatening. A careless remark by the US president and fake news stories about supposed remedies are having devastating consequences. A fact-checking platform is working to bring some order to the deluge of information.
The current situation in Africa has made it clear that ‘alternative facts’ can be life-threatening. A careless remark by the US president and false reports about supposed remedies are having devastating consequences. A fact-checking platform is working to bring some order to the deluge of information.
Garlic, ginger and cow urine: these home remedies have already seen off COVID-19, according to various blogs and Facebook pages in Ethiopia. Tanzania’s president John Magufuli, meanwhile, claimed on social media that inhaling steam or bathing in very hot water kills all viruses. The WHO’s denial of this ‘fact’ was not given nearly as much attention. And Facebook pages in Nigeria advise that instead of undergoing tests and observing hygiene rules people should self-medicate – with the least extreme treatments being the above-mentioned home remedies and the most extreme being half a litre of bleach, taken orally. Since the beginning of March, a few weeks after this news first came out, sales of chloroquine in the western African country have increased.
These theories are receiving a lot of attention in Central, West and East Africa, and not just because many areas there have precarious healthcare systems. Another reason is that bloggers and influencers rely on followers, and more attention means more money, so some of them are using paid online advertising in their home countries to spread sinister conspiracy theories about the virus or publish disinformation. The claim by US president Trump that the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine had shown initial success in the fight against COVID-19 was also big news in Nigeria und Kenya. However, the drug turned out to be ineffective at treating the virus.
The website AfricaCheck.org, founded in 2012, is attempting to fight the raging disinfodemic by raising awareness of the dangers of false information and putting politicians’ comments in context. One of the site’s articles recently led to a Nigerian blogger being arrested. He had repeatedly claimed to have found a cure for COVID-19. To incite panic, he had also posted images online with captions claiming that millions had died from the virus in China. The pictures showed dozens of people lying motionless in the street. What the blogger had deliberately failed to mention was that they were actually photographs of a Frankfurt art installation commemorating the Holocaust.
AfricaCheck.Org was founded as a reaction to another emergency. Eight years ago, people were wrongly warned against having the polio vaccination. Nigeria was the last African country to be removed from the endemic list, which only happened in 2019.