Sadly, I now realize that this information fueled my fear yet most of it was false,” Nina says as she strokes her kitten back and forth. “To a point, it affected my relationship with some of my friends and family because I didn’t want to visit anyone nor to be visited,” she adds.
In the midst of confusion and trying to grasp any information available about COVID-19, many fell victim to misinformation with some believing in the existence of the virus and others not. For example, on one extreme some people believed that COVID-19 does not exist, or that it doesn’t affect Africans.
As a result, they ignored directives from the government and other entities such as the World Health Organization urging them to take protective measures. On the other extreme, some chose to believe myths such as COVID-19 is caused by simply talking to an infected person therefore locking themselves indoors.
Ernestine says, “A friend of mine bought 50kgs of rice which has now expired since he lives alone.” Panic buying was evident in Kenya having people stocking cereals, tissue rolls, sanitizers and even drugs.
The panic was fueled by misinformation on COVID-19 through videos, images and texts that were constantly shared across social media intentionally or unintentionally. The root of misinformation is an individual or group that disseminates information with an intention to harm another group resulting in political, social or economical gain.
These individuals prey on innocent social media users thirsting for information to help spread misinformation. This is seen in the case of COVID-19 where many believed, shared and acted based on misinformation received.
Apart from Kenyan citizens, the Government of Kenya has also fallen victim to the COVID-19 infodemic. Misinformation has poked holes in the trust some Kenyans once had in their government slowing down the efforts of the Ministry of Health and Health Practitioners to administer the COVID-19 vaccines and eradicate the virus.
In February 2020, a plane from China carrying , when most countries affected by COVID-19 at the time had closed their borders. This act led to uproar among Kenyans, coming at a time when China accounted for the bulk of COVID-19 cases.
At the time, there were a number of messages circulating on WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter falsely claiming that COVID-19 was created in a lab in China. The lengthy message was posted on Twitter by Aly Khan Satchu, a verified user, giving the content more visibility and reach.
In January 2021, a photo of boxes labelled ‘Remdesivir for Injection’ which has a list of African countries marked as ‘Not for distribution in the US, CANADA or EU’ showed up on social media and gained traction.
This was around the time that a number of studies on the efficacy of remdesivir in reducing the severity of COVID-19 infection. The misleading post was shared on , and WhatsApp, with some posts claiming that the drug was meant to wipe out Africans.
It is difficult to decipher whether a well-crafted sensational message is false if one does not have the skills. Nina says, “I innocently shared information not knowing it was false. I was not even aware that people can take their time to try and manipulate others through such sensitive information.
At least now I know better. I will read and verify before I share.” Just like Nina, other Kenyans are also contributing to misinformation about COVID-19. This is a call to you who is reading this: Be different.
This publication was produced as part of IWPR’s Africa Resilience Network (ARN) programme, administered in partnership with the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR), the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), and Africa Uncensored. For more information about ARN, please visit the ARN site. https://africaresiliencenetwork.com/