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On February 11, KAS Media Africa alongside its partners the Africa Centre for Evidence (ACE) and Africa Check co-hosted an online event to launch Tackling misinformation on WhatsApp in Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal & South Africa: Effective strategies in a time of Covid-19. The 102-page publication is a culmination of months of research that drew respondents from the four forementioned countries and 13 other states including Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire and Rwanda.
Since the outset of the pandemic, there has been a surge of people across the globe turning to social media networks – notably WhatsApp, more so in Africa – for news and information.
In his opening remarks, webinar moderator and KAS Media Africa Director Christoph Plate, described demographics aptly. “Africa is a WhatsApp continent,” he said, also explaining how misinformation can thrive in an environment of end-to-end encryption.
Africa Check Executive Director Noko Makgato discussed the importance of research on misinformation. “Social media is a major conduit of misinformation, but it took a centre stage in the time of Covid-19,” he said singling WhatsApp as headache for factcheckers. “It is a large, invisible web but cannot be tracked.”
Unpacking the study’s findings, Prof Ruth Stewart, Director of ACE, based at the University of Johannesburg, reflected that misinformation was at times unwittingly driven by a sense of responsibility. “People were sharing it with their loved ones unknowingly, they unknowingly spread misinformation,” she said.
But as Nicola Theunissen, former research consultant at Africa Check, noted, not all is lost. “If you understand where the problem comes from you can be able to fix it,” she said. Discussing mitigation strategies for fact-checkers, Theunissen noted the importance of empowering people to tell facts from fiction. “It is a good development because it puts the agency in the hands of the people. It tells them that they are able to respond and how to respond to misinformation.”
To access the full report, click here.