Turn on any TV channel or radio station, browse the internet, scroll through your social media feed and you will find a plethora of information surrounding the coronavirus. In the digital era anyone with internet access can share their personal opinions, beliefs and fears with a wide audience. In some cases, however, this gives ground to inconsiderate and even dangerous claims spreading faster than the COVID-19 itself. To combat the misinformation surrounding the pandemic, the UK government is now turning to influencers.
In a press release last Thursday, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) announced an international push to challenge fake news about coronavirus. The government body will provide £500,000 to the Humanitarian-to-Humanitarian (H2H) Network, an organization which addressed the spread of misinformation during the 2015 Ebola outbreak.
In addition to other initiatives, the H2H will now work with social media influencers to reach younger online audiences beyond the UK, targeting the source of fake news spreading in and from Africa and South East Asia. Through popular vloggers and bloggers, the network will debunk myths, stop misinformation from passing on and direct people to sources of accurate health advice.
The influencers enlisted include Bianca Gonzalez, a Philippine health expert with more than seven million Twitter followers and a vlogger with 123,000 YouTube subscribers. Bangladeshi health expert and popular TV presenter with over 1 million Facebook followers and 608,000 YouTube fans Dr. Jahangir Kabir has also been brought on board. Indonesian health blog KlikDokter will also aid the initiative.
The DFID further noted that some of the more damaging mistruths circulating on social media include “miracle cures” for the coronavirus such as drinking bleach or urine, sleeping next to chopped onions, rubbing garlic into the skin, and gargling salt water. People in West Africa have also received WhatsApp messages claiming to be from health officials and telling them drinking warm water every few minutes will prevent infection. Rumors prompting violence and conspiracies are also damaging the information flow surrounding the virus.
“These pose a serious risk to health and can speed up the spread of the virus, by stopping people taking simple practical, preventative steps like washing their hands,” the DFID said.