The callousness around COVID-19 can be blamed on Fake News
There are very few Kenyans who still take COVID-19 seriously. “Coronavirus does not exist” has been on the lips of many recently, with each person have own opinion on why that’s the case. There are those who have bought to the conspiracy theories that pandemic is a well orchestrated plot by some invisible men and women whose intention is to usher in a new world order with them as the gods, and there are those who say that the pandemic is governments’ way of dishing out billion of dollars to a few individuals. Then there is fake news that’s not helping salvage the situation.
Fake News during this coronavirus pandemic has been coming from all corners. Mainstream media outlets, government communication channels, experts, and celebrities – all spew fake news without measure. Take for example the insistence by Donald Trump that hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment against the virus, to the unveiling of COVID organic by President Andry Rajoelina of Madagascar as a sure remedy against COVID-19. Then we have experts who have downplayed important preventive measures against the spread of the virus particularly those centered on mask wearing. Actions by some government especially Tanzanian government has also helped fueled the speculation that coronavirus does not exist.
The spreading of fake news, disinformation and conspiracy theories surrounding the global coronavirus pandemic on the internet has presented a major challenge to the health authorities, fact-checkers, and frontline stakeholders battling to stop the spread of this disease. The fake news of how it began, how it spreads and the possible treatment to the COVID-19 continue to flood the social media sites despite governments setting up very responsive hotlines and communication platforms aimed at engaging the public on key issues surrounding the pandemic.
Facebook said it had removed hundreds of thousands of coronavirus posts that could have led to harm while putting warning labels on 90 million pieces of misinformation globally in March and April. YouTube says it has banned all the videos falsely linking the coronavirus symptoms to 5G networks, other social media platforms have also stepped up efforts to fight the COVID infordemic but users somehow still find ways to believe that the virus was made in a laboratory, that death and infection figures are being manipulated by the authorities, and others insist there is no hard evidence the virus even exists.
There is a great challenge to understanding a new disease. There’s a lot we still don’t know about this virus, and this creates a knowledge vacuum that is easily filled by conspiracy theories and misinformation since all the research on coronavirus is largely limited to public opinion surveys. With this in mind, there may be a strong link between belief in conspiracy theories and fake news about the virus and the careless health-protective behaviors during restrictions imposed to prevent its spread.
The fake news has sowed seeds of doubts about the severity, or the very existence of the COVID-19 health emergency in Kenya. For example, when there was demolition in Ruai, I saw many tweets of users saying coronavirus doesn’t really exist because the government would not have demolished the houses considering the need to keep the social distance rule.
“I don’t know the name of one person who has died. All we can see is the government is getting billions of shillings to fight this disease, which for us does not exist,” said Wesley Onguso to a local media station.
What has been on the public domain started with Ivy Brenda Cherotich, and then it came to Preacher Robert Burale, Bishop Wanjiru, Citizen TV’s journalist Jeff Koinange and others. These people have been accused of colluding with the government to convince Kenyans that coronavirus was real so as to keep donor funds aimed at containing the situation flowing. Despite more than 10,000 positive cases and 200 deaths, many Kenyans have continued with their business as usual with the blatant disregard of the containment guidelines laid out.
The impact of the fake news has been the rise of carelessly and lethargy amongst citizens across the world. In Romania, doctors have to contend with increased number of cases as no one in that country seem to respect the rules anymore. The same is true for Kenya. Ever since the government lifted the Nairobi lockdown, not only have cases increased across the country, but in Nairobi too. Right now in Nairobi there are no hospitals that are not filled to capacity. Worse still, there have been reports of people just collapsing to death without warning.
Behaviors of Kenyans in funerals particularly in Luo Nyanza have also indicated to us how Kenyans do not take coronavirus seriously. The lack of seriousness can only be narrowed down to the proliferation of Fake News, conspiracy theories, disinformation and misinformation by all stakeholders involved.
As Kenya steps up its fight against the pandemic, stamping out misinformation would be critical in keeping the rate of infections low, and will be very promising in flattening the curve. To effectively counter disinformation the Ministry of Health must be very transparent and consistent in responding to the citizens’ concerns.
By the way, do you still wash your hands regularly?