Falsehoods, which can range from deliberate lies to genuine confusion and errors, often travel alongside novel threats like COVID-19. But the problem has been so prevalent with the coronavirus pandemic that the World Health Organization (WHO) has called this swirl of online falsehoods an “infodemic”. “We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic”, said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the Munich Security Conference on February 15th 2020.
The abundance of mis- and disinformation makes it hard for decision-makers, healthcare workers, and the general public to distill trustworthy and reliable guidance, increases feelings of anxiety and confusion, and can affect decision-making processes with immediate effects because of a lack of time to conduct quality control.
UN Global Pulse partnered with WHO Regional Office for Africa (WHO AFRO) to provide insights on: (1) online misinformation and disinformation that put people at risk, and (2) relevant topics around COVID-19 and health.
In order to filter relevant content, UN Global Pulse created a taxonomy of keywords and categorized the comments around certain themes: vaccine production, WHO response, alternatives cures, etc. Data analytics was conducted on various onlines sources, including Twitter posts, news sources, websites, Youtube and forums, to inform: (1) the trends and spread of misinformation and rumours about specific events flagged by WHO and (2) a sentiment analysis around WHO and other organizations’ efforts with regard to fighting the pandemic.
The analysis is being conducted on an ongoing basis and UN Global Pulse provides weekly reports. The results have been used by WHO AFRO to issue recommendations and solutions for timely course correction of communications and for better targeted engagement strategies.
Building on this initial work, UN Global Pulse and WHO plan to embark on a year-long project to expand the scope of the analysis to include additional data sources, specifically radio streams, in order to ensure voices of populations otherwise not included in the discourse are accounted for.