Fake news, conspiracy theories and doctored pictures and videos are impeding efforts to control the COVID-19 pandemic. To help stem the flow of misinformation, the pan-African broadcaster MultiChoice Group is harnessing the talent of young creatives and bringing the fight against fake news to 20 million homes across the continent.
Soon after COVID-19 was declared a global public health emergency of international concern, the highest level of alarm early this year, and as countries rushed to impose the necessary protocols and lockdowns, a new challenge cropped up – misinformation about the pandemic.
False information about the pandemic became rampant and soon the internet was awash with fake news, conspiracy theories and doctored pictures.
To counter this, the United Nations in June 2020 launched “Pause”, a global campaign aimed at asking digital media users to take the time to think (pause) before sharing or posting online content.
South African-headquartered MultiChoice was one of media companies around the world that joined the campaign and pledged to share the Pause campaign content on their channels to tackle COVID-19 misinformation.
“We put a number of young people together in TV and video production or content creation,” Imtiaz Patel, MultiChoice’s Group Non-Executive Chair, told Africa Renewal in an interview from his office in Johannesburg, South Africa. “We are taking this initiative to the next level where they are going to create content to support this campaign.”
Pausing for just a moment before sharing information online can vastly stem the flow of dubious information. Pausing also puts a break on automatic or impulsive reaction and potentially offers a space to think beyond the shocking, emotive or sensational nature of the information.
Media organizations, including those in Africa, have signed up for #PledgetoPause and committed to help distribute the campaign content and messaging. #PledgetoPause aims to reach a global audience of one billion people online and through partnerships, by the end of this year.
For MultiChoice, however, beyond just broadcasting content produced, the organization is also creating opportunities for young creators across the continent to contribute their talents to the fight.
In October, students from MultiChoice’s ‘Talent Factory’ joined the UN #PledgetoPause campaign producing short messages to nudge viewers to enroll in the #PledgetoPause initiative.
Global voices and online influencers were doing the same and engaging with their followers around the world.
The MultiChoice Talent Factory is an initiative aimed at developing and upskilling creative talent in Africa by scouting and nurturing young storytellers.
Since its inception two years ago, more than 100 young people from over a dozen countries have been trained in various audio and video production programmes at the company’s three academies in Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia.
Some of these talented youth are now involved in the “Pause” campaign, creating locally relevant content for the African market, making it easier for viewers to identify and engage with global concerns around COVID-19 misinformation.
“We want to bring in expertise of local production and local languages where we can,” said Mr. Patel, adding: “We are commissioning young talents in collaboration with the UN to develop localized public service announcements.”
An estimated 20 million homes in Africa have access to MultiChoice’s TV satellite paid services and the company believes that it is duty-bound to offer its platforms to the efforts to debunk conspiracy theories and provide verified and fact-based information about the pandemic.
While it may be too early to assess the full impact of this approach, “you can see there is a greater awareness amongst people in my WhatsApp groups”, Mr. Patel remarked, “in the communities and with individuals that we talk to about the need to be far more careful in disseminating information that may or may not be true.”
“Pause” is part of the broader UN “Verified” campaign, started in May 2020, to help people gain access to fact-based and credible information and ways to identify and stem the viral flow of false and inaccurate content. An email and social media initiative, “Verified” invites people to register and become “information volunteers” to disseminate trusted and UN-verified content.
“Verified” provides a daily feed of easy-to-share simple messages aimed at countering falsehoods or filling critical information gaps. Subscribers receive content in their inbox and are encouraged to pass it along including via their Facebook and other social media accounts.