Co-founders, Abideen Olasupo and Abdulhakeem Abdulkareem exlpain how ‘Know COVID-19 Nigeria’ is fighting the COVID19 misinformation, reducing boredom and creating opportunities for young people.
As we write, 199 countries are affected by the COVID19 pandemic and nearly 3.5 billion people are in mandatory or voluntary confinement. In Nigeria, the virus has begun to spread at geometric rates. However, beyond this pandemic is an ‘infodemic’ (lack of adequate information, fake news, misinformation, disinformation and uneven distribution of news). In Nigeria we have seen this before and we know how damaging it can be.
The dangers of misinformation
When the Ebola epidemic hit Nigeria in 2014, there was serious panic and misinformation. A lot of people followed flimsy, inaccurate and unverified information about preventive or precautionary measures. At least, two people died from drinking and/or bathing with salt water which was rumoured to be a preventive solution. Now similar rumours are spreading regarding COVID-19.
President Donald Trump recklessly endorsed Chloroquine as a cure for COVID-19, leading to an upsurge in the demand for the drug in Lagos State and cases of poisoning were recorded. At the same time, obeying the shelter-in-place order by the government has created boredom and anxiety for many young people. This is especially true in Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) that are observing mandatory confinement to their homes at the instructions of the President. Aside from a few who are able to perform their jobs virtually by internet or telephone, most of the people in these areas would remain idle. This idleness creates obvious economic and psychological challenges.
Tackling fake news
Amidst these series of challenges we, a group of young Nigerians, teamed up to establish “Know COVID-19 Nigeria.” An initiative to tackle the COVID19 misinformation by providing adequate, relevant, reliable and relatable information and debunking fake news. We are young professionals from various fields; from media to medicine, graphic design and web development to public relations, data analysis, research, monitoring and evaluation. We are all volunteering our time and expertise, relieving ourselves of boredom and keeping people safe, informed and protected. The skills of these young people allow Know COVID-19 to share accurate information through relatable eye-catching graphics. This draws public attention to stories and articles from relevant sources like the World Health Organisation and the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, that people may otherwise pass over in favour of more enticing but dangerous misinformation stories.
Within a week of its establishment, Know COVID-19 has been able to directly reach and engage over 2 million Nigerians. We have debunked over 20 fake news reports on the pandemic, sensitised the public on myths and facts about the virus and shared relevant information about cases, preventive measures and medical advice using Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. With a team of over 100 volunteers, who are distilling and interpreting data from relevant sources, curating different stories, matrix mapping victims to prevent spread and sensitising people on coping strategies while they shelter-in-place.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, WhatsApp has proven to be particularly susceptible to spreading COVID19 misinformation (in the form of articles, pictures, audio clips and doctored video). The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently launched its official WhatsApp chatbot to share credible information with people. Likewise, Know COVID-19 is using the platform to reach out to people and debunk fake information with some of the most vulnerable and susceptible groups. This platform has helped them reach out to more vulnerable people.
Beyond tackling fake news, Know COVID19 is gathering data on cases, perceptions, emotions and much more. In order to build a database of information that could help researchers and scholars during and after this outbreak. To reach more people, get more volunteers online and provide relief support for the most vulnerable people, Know COVID is crowdfunding and seeking support from individuals and institutions. The organisation has created a GoFundme page, you can visit the page to make donations. You can also make donations via their Nigerian Paystack page to donate.
Abdulhakeem Abdulkareem is a Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist. He is the Director of Research and Development and Volunteers Coordinator at Know COVID-19 Nigeria. Reach him on Twitter orLinkedIn. (Visit www.knowcovid19.ng or send an email to Hello@knowcovid19.ng for more information).
Abideen Olasupo is a Global Goals Youth Panel Member and the founder and executive director of Brain Builders Youth Development Initiative. He also championed the translation of the SDGs into local languages and is currently mobilising community campaigners to meet stakeholders across all the 774 LGAs in a bid to help in the localisation, and most importantly, the achievement of the SDGs.