COVID-19: We Must Work Together To Fight ‘Fake News’ – NCDC

Following the proliferation of disinformation in Nigeria’s ecosystem, an epidemiologist at the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Abiodun Egwuenu, has called on the general public to join in the fight against ‘fake news.’

Speaking on Thursday, June 11, at a virtual conference organised by the Centre for Democracy and Development on Fighting Disinformation in a Global Pandemic, Egwuenu said rumour spread has changed over time.

Egwuenu who is also the lead for the COVID-19 Rumour Response – a team of partners including the CDD which is focused on countering disinformation in Nigeria – said false claim during this pandemic resurfaced to cause panic or conflict.

Highlighting the trends of the spread of fake news, she urged Nigerians and the general public to slow down and always check the source of information before they click or share.

Egwuenu said: “Majority of the rumour in Nigeria have been from areas and locations with a high prevalence of the COVID-19 cases.”

Advising Nigerians, she said: “When you are not sure of the facts, leave out. We already have a lot of challenges with fighting COVID-19, adding disinformation to the mix will only make things worse.”

According to her, the emergence of social media as an information tool has changed the way things – dissemination of information – used to be.

“These days what we get is a blend of a number of factual claims and one or two disinformation in it,” Egwuenu said.

She further advised the public to always double-check and verify all information from relevant sources like the NCDC, government agencies and experts before sharing.

Also, addressing NCDC’s response to COVID-19 cases across the country and the close of interstate borders, the epidemiologists explained that states are the first respondents to emergency situations.

She said the states including the Federal Capital Territory are in charge of the health security of their states.

“When we get information from the public we escalate to the states,” Egwuenu said.

She added that: “Regarding COVID-19 numbers, it is a new infection and from studies conducted globally, the number of cases ranges from 2-6 per infection, that is if they do not take the preventive measures.”

Also speaking, the special assistant to the president on digital and new media, Tolu Ogunlesi, said the lack of digital literacy has contributed to the widespread of misinformation.

Ogunlesi said there is need for the creation of awareness and training which would enable citizens to check sources of information to receive.

He also called for partnership with social media and other tech companies to improve the control systems within the eco-space.

“CSOs have an active role to play in curbing disinformation, there is a need to develop a beneficial ownership control register,” Ogunlesi said.

For the government, Ogunlesi said, it (the government) has been saddled with the responsibility of making sure that appropriate information is constantly made available to the media.

According to Ogunlesi, fact-checking must not be turned into a  task to be done only by specialized platforms but every media organisation must make efforts to fact-check all claims before going to print.

In his address, Daniel Anarudo, the advisor for information strategies at the National Democratic Institute technology is currently being used to distort information across the globe. 

Anarudo said there is a need for control and coordination of systems to address manipulation of data.

He said rather than spreading rumours and causing conflicts, technology and automated programs should be used for the public good.

Anarudo added that while “Government responses have become politicised. Hence there is a need for more transparency and openness to information to build trust.”

He also identified weak oversight management as a key challenge aiding the spread of disinformation across the globe and called for the creation of guidelines for companies and media users.

He said the guidelines will be used to promote only positive and neutral opinion which is critical to curbing disinformation and hate speech.

“Educating people on hate speech issues, critical thinking, and digital literacy will help curb the widespread of disinformation,” Anarudo added.