May 18, 2020
By Wole Elegbede
Several organizations across the world are involved in the fight against the novel coronavirus, otherwise known Covid-19. Facebook has been lending support on a number of fronts. The area of its involvement that may catch immediate attention, particularly of journalists, is the resolve of the organization to tackle the spread of fake news about the virus which has wreaked havoc on world populations and economies. Facebook has launched a communication platform called “Covid-19 Information Centre” to address misinformation, and convey accurate information from specific sources to its subscribers in 24 African countries.
This new platform, which was launched in the second week of April 2020, joins the league of renowned information resources that have been developed to provide timely and accurate information on safety precautions, data, effects, government and private level responses, collaborations and other matters concerning the pandemic. Such resources include, among others, Commonwealth Coronavirus Response Centre, Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Centre, Worldmetres Coronavirus Tracker and Global Health Crisis Reporting Forum, administered by the International Centre For Journalists.
This article looks at the impact of the new Facebook Information platform on its Nigerian users, as well as the nature of audience engagement on the platform, since its appearance. The new feature has conspicuously been placed on top of the news feed of every user's page. It announces: “Covid-19 Information Centre. Get Information you can trust from recognized health institutions.” The reach of this Information Centre in Nigeria has been quite enormous as could be seen in the numbers and quality of audience engagement.
Facebook believes prosper way to fight the proliferation of fake news in the wake of Covid-19 terror is perhaps encourage its users to develop a preference for getting and relying on information from the recognized channels officially mandated to handle coronavirus health issues.
“This is an ever evolving situation, where we will continue to support the relevant bodies, both locally and globally. We also encourage all users to check the facts via official public health agencies before sharing messages that have been forwarded to them, and to engage directly with trusted and official sources for important information,” said Facebook's Head of Public Policy for Anglophone West Africa, Adaora Ikenze while commenting on the organization's specific efforts in Nigeria in an information sheet published recently.
From a Nigerian user's point of view, there are four vital resources on the page from where information is dished out. These resources include the websites of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the Federal Ministry of Health (FMH), the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF). The Centre does not publish news sources other than from the official websites of these recognized health bodies.
The idea is to create awareness and promote the safety of users, which may go a long way to assist in fighting and flattening the curve of the pandemic in Nigeria.
Nigeria has a stupendous number of Facebook users in Africa. Statistics shows that in March 2020, the number of Facebook users in Nigeria was 27.6 million. This means that Facebook's Covid-19 Information Centre could have achieved an appreciable mileage given the fact that the current number of Facebook followers of the recognized health institutions concerned with the disease in Nigeria is: NCDC (207.2k), Federal Ministry of Health Nigeria (32.1k), WHO (7.9 m) and UNICEF (8.3 m).
Five quick takes
Taking a quick look at the kinds of news published by the Information Centre will help in the understanding of the scope of audience engagement and the extent to which journalists can make use of such news for immediate publishing, research or investigation. The highlight of such news will also make the journalists around the world know the kind of information related to Covid-19 that is being released by the specialized health institutions into the Nigerian social media space, and this may enhance the possibility of comparison with information in other countries.
1. NCDC is contributing to research on public health response
Here's the news: “As we respond to Covid-19 in Nigeria, we are also contributing to research, that will be used for evidence based public health response Yesterday, NCDC held a workshop supported by Africa Field Epidemiology Network and US Center for Disease Control, Nigeria for a prospective study on the First Few X (FFX) cases in Nigeria.”
2. Africa Centre for Disease Control collaborates with China's billionaire, Jack Ma
Here's the info: “The Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), The Jack Ma Foundation, Alibaba Foundation, and Alibaba Health Present a special webinar on Global MediXChange for Combating COVID-19 (GMCC) The Experience of China”.
3. UNICEF takes up the challenge for children's safety
Here's the news: “Last year, over 13 million children didn’t receive any vaccines. Now, COVID-19 is leaving even more of the world’s most marginalised children without access to immunization. We face an essential challenge: to make up lost ground and reach every last child.”
4. WHO builds up sensitization programmes in Nigeria
WHO continues to support state governments in carrying out sensitization activities to create more awareness on Covid-19 for Port health and clearing Agents. WHO lagos team at Tin Can Apapa container off loading bay terminal.
5. UNICEF features 8 year old boy bullied because of his name — Corona
The story actually first produced by BBC, and published on UNICEF website. Here's the opening paragraph of the story: “US actor Tom Hanks has written a letter and sent a Corona-brand typewriter gift to an Australian boy who said he was bullied because of his name — Corona”.
In showcasing this potpourri of information, Facebook's Covid-19 Information Centre has been able to extend the reach of such information to additional 27.6 million Nigerian users. This article has taken a cursory look at the scope of audience engagement to find out about the quality and depth. A random sampling of the contents shows that while the quality of audience engagement has been high and low with regard to some specific posts, the discussion often veers off the focus of the original post. This makes it difficult for an investigative journalist to arrive at a conclusion whether the platform actually succeeded in communicating to the audiences, and to what extent the audiences are able to understand the posts which appear on the platform.
“It’s not localized, so it’s mostly information that is generalized. I believe this is the reason why there are low levels of engagement. People want to know what’s happening around us,” said Chidera Rosecamille Aneke, a journalist who works for Darling FM, Owerri, and a storyteller on health and climate change.
“I think the center is a brilliant idea, it will help reduce misinformation. Especially, when it’s the first thing you see once you log in to Facebook. Journalists are always looking to get facts and in times like this it’s tough to get information. Considering that most journalists can’t go out to do their jobs as normal. I think it will help,” she said.
Tokunbo Fakeye, an online journalist and Facebook enthusiast, opined: “Covid-19 information Centre as it is on Facebook is a welcome development. This centre is playing a vital role in a global fight against fake news rampart on Internet. It is a centre with accurate information on Covid-19. If not for this information Centre, outright fake news to frighten people would have dominated the Internet.”
* Elegbede is a multimedia journalist based in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria