Africa Infodemic Response Alliance

The Africa Infodemic Response Alliance (AIRA) is Africa’s network to share safe, proven facts on health and to counter dangerous health misinformation. 

An infodemic is too much information during a public health crisis - including false or misleading information - in both the digital and physical environments.

With COVID-19, Ebola or any other outbreak, a glut of information can confuse people and fuel behaviours that drive the spread of disease. It can undermine trust in health authorities which hampers public health responses and ultimately prolongs outbreaks.

AIRA is a first of its kind regional network that brings together fact-checking and media organisations, big data, AI and innovation bodies and leading inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations working in public health to respond to infodemics.

The Alliance applies the four pillars of an infodemic management framework that was developed by over 1300 experts from a range of disciplines.

The pillars are:

  • Identify information gaps and misinformation.  

  • Simplify technical knowledge. 

  • Amplify correct information. 

  • Quantify the impact of interventions.

Viral Facts Africa is the public face of the Alliance, producing fact-based health information, fact checks, debunks and misinformation literacy content for AIRA members and partners.

Alliance Members

WHO Regional Office for Africa is leading on coordinating infodemic management efforts in the region through hosting the AIRA network.

UNICEF advocates for the protection of children's rights, to help meet their basic needs and to expand their opportunities to reach their full potential.

Mis- and disinformation can be harmful to children and their families, impacting mental and physical health, increasing stigmatization, and undermining confidence in life-saving vaccines. While new technologies and online platforms provide extraordinary opportunities for children and young people to learn and engage, they can also be conducive to the spread of false and harmful information.

Infodemic management is key to empower children and families to distinguish facts from falsehoods and make informed decisions. UNICEF is committed to listen to communities and reach them with accurate and reliable information, to help children and young people thrive

Africa CDC is a specialized technical institution of the African Union established to support public health initiatives of Member States and strengthen the capacity of their public health institutions to detect, prevent, control and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is supporting National societies to conduct risk communication and community engagement activities to build trust and acceptance of health practices and interventions by mobilizing the network’s 1.4 million community volunteers and using mass and social media channels to share timely, accurate information about COVID-19; address misinformation, fear and stigma; collect, analyse and respond to community feedback and use this data to guide the response; and by building partnerships with community leaders, influencers, networks and diverse groups to identify and support local solutions to ending the pandemic. More broadly, community engagement and accountability approaches are mainstreamed across all sectors of the response to ensure communities can participate in planning interventions, are aware of the support available, and have a mechanism to ask questions or raise complaints. Community feedback data is collected at country level and consolidated and analysed at the regional level on a weekly basis, with community feedback reports shared widely and used to inform operational decision-making. The regional team also produces accompanying factsheets and videos featuring the IFRC Africa’s Head of Health and Care unit to provide answers to the key questions arising in community feedback, which are shared with community members, staff and volunteers on social media and WhatsApp. IFRC Africa is also taking a lead role at the interagency level by co-chairing the RCCE technical working group and leading the sub-working group on community feedback, which established a process for collecting and analysing trends in community feedback across agencies and advocating for response-wide changes based on this shared data.

UNESCO works to address causes and consequences of disinformation as part of its mandate to promote the rights to access to information and freedom of expression on any medium and regardless of frontiers. Following the massive wave of disinformation experienced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many activities are specifically tailored to strengthen citizens’ resilience to health disinformation and disinformation on COVID-19.

UNESCO’s response to disinformation encompasses:

  • Policy research, dialogue and recommendations to assist UNESCO Member States to formulate legislative, regulatory and policy responses to counter disinformation at the same time as respecting freedom of expression, access to information and privacy rights;
  • Monitoring and reporting of trends and developments in disinformation and related topics in the field of Communication and Information;
  • Strengthening professional and diverse media’s role as fact-checkers for the public by supporting their access to verified information on COVID-19 and building their capacity to report on the pandemic. This includes providing journalists with guidance and training in health reporting, media deontology and safety when covering pandemic;
  • Strengthening local fact-checking organisations to debunk misinformation;
  • Empowering youth and other citizens to critically process what they read and hear as part of the fundamental right to seek and receive information through media and information literacy.

Key resources in this respect, inter alia, includes:

UN Global Pulse is an innovation initiative of the Executive Office of the United Nations Secretary-General whose mission is to discover and mainstream applications of big data and artificial intelligence for sustainable development, humanitarian action, and peace and security. We work to create the enabling environment needed to foster responsible innovation and allow mainstream adoption of proven approaches through a network of offices called Pulse Labs. In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, our teams are creating and scaling analytics tools, methodologies, and frameworks to support UN entities to better understand the operational contexts in which they can counter the negative effects of the pandemic. Based on scientific methodologies, we provide analytical support and products for:

  •  Short term qualitative and quantitative analysis of digital signals based on rumours and misinformation provided by field offices;
  • Continuous monitoring based on an adaptive taxonomy which allows to identify rapidly evolving infodemics;
  • Quantitative evaluation of temporal evolution of particular topics;
  • Predictive analytics of rumours and concepts along size, geographic and channel reach;
  • Sentiment and emotion analysis around particular concepts, including the appearance and escalation of hate speech;
  • Developing a framework for optimizing messaging to counter disinformation at the right time, in the right format with the right message;
  • Analysis of the perceptions, emotions and concepts associated with the work of UN entities.

Participating & Supporting Entities

AFP launched its digital verification service in France in 2017 and has grown to become the leading global fact-checking organisation, with dedicated journalists in countries from the United States to Myanmar. Our journalists monitor online content in local languages, from Amharic to Hindi, Polish or Portuguese. They take into account local cultures, languages and politics and work with AFP’s bureaus worldwide to investigate and disprove false information, focusing on items which can be harmful, impactful and manipulative.

Africa Check is the continent’s leading independent, nonpartisan, fact-checking organisation. Established in 2012, we have four offices across the continent: in Johannesburg (South Africa), Nairobi (Kenya), Lagos (Nigeria) and Dakar (Senegal). We have fact-checked more than 1700 claims in English and French, focusing on areas from education and health to elections and the economy. Misinformation is a problem with multiple tentacles: it is a problem of false information and it is a problem of a lack of access to, and trust in, reliable information. That is why Africa Check has a 360-degree approach to fighting misinformation.

Globally, people are facing an avalanche of Covid-19 misinformation, hindering their ability to participate in informed public debate and to make evidence-based decisions. Africa Check has proactively worked to increase access to accurate and reliable information about Covid-19.

We launched a media literacy campaign, #KeepTheFactsGoing, on Whatsapp and community radio station. The campaign empowers people to critically engage with information instead of merely sharing it. We currently produce the media literacy work in six widely spoken local languages in the countries we operate. Topics include vaccine hesitancy, common health myths, false cures and treatments for Covid-19, Covid-19 myths about masks and the dangers of health misinformation.

We created live guides in English and French with all our coronavirus-related fact-checks in one place. We also published factsheets and Q&As to further inform our audience, and continued with regular radio and television appearances to amplify our reach. The pandemic underscored the need for an information-driven tool like our Info Finder which makes reliable information available in an accessible Q&A format. Since March, we’ve focused on answering readers’ questions, by adding a dedicated Covid-19 tag in the search interface to answer the myriad of coronavirus-related questions we receive from our audience.

A key goal for Africa Check is to foster and build fact-checking skills among the broader public with a focus on those that are critical role-players in the information ecosystem – such as journalists and members of civil society organisations. We have successfully pivoted our fact-checking training to be conducted online with a focus on health misinformation to capacitate these players to bring the public evidence-based information during the pandemic.

DUBAWA is Nigeria’s first indigenous independent verification and fact-checking project, initiated by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) and supported by the most influential newsrooms and civic organisations in the country to help amplify the culture of truth in public discourse, public policy, and journalistic practice.

It is non-partisan, accepting only to uphold the values of accuracy, balance, transparency, verification, independence, and accountability in all its operations. We are guided, in all our practice, by the five principles of the International Fact Checking Network (IFCN).

Dubawa’s mission statement is to institute a culture of truth and verification in public discourse and journalism through strategic partnerships between the media, government, civil society organizations, technology giants and the public.

The basic assumptions (which are integral to our theory of change) are that factual information enables people to make more informed choices in a democratic society and on other public interest issues. Therefore, providing verified information will likely promote good governance and accountability.

We also believe that truth and trust have been eroded in journalism owing largely to thinner investments and the competing forces of social media. If an independent media project provides factual information and builds the capacity of newsrooms through collaboration, the eroding trust in the media will be restored.

Dubawa expanded its programme to Ghana this year in a bid to promote accountability and democracy across the West African region.

Project Objectives

  • Through media literacy articles, fact-checks, analysis, fact sheets and online/offline engagement, encourage a more engaged and information-literate citizenry who are capable of making informed decisions about issues that affect their development
  • Equip newsrooms with the skills and environment to make fact-checking and truth a norm in media houses through training and fellowships, so that eroding trust in media will be restored
  • Conduct research and build technological tools that adequately identify, analyse and counter information disorder, while building a body of knowledge around misinformation in Nigeria and Ghana
  • Partner newsrooms and data-driven agencies to obtain and digitalise factual information on politics, economy/statistics and health so that Dubawa becomes the #1 hub for verified information in Nigeria and Ghana

PesaCheck is a pioneering verification initiative that is kickstarting fact-checking across Africa. Initially focused on verifying the financial and other statistical numbers quoted by public figures in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, PesaCheck is now Africa’s largest with full-time fact-checkers in 12 countries in both east and west Africa, as well as across the Sahel. PesaCheck fact-checks in two international languages (English and French), as well as major African languages such as Kiswahili and Amharic. Our network helps track political promises by politicians (through our Wajibisha/PromiseTracker toolkit), helps unpack budget and census data (through our PesaYetu and TaxClock platforms), and builds machine learning/artificial intelligence tools (such as DebunkBot) to help automate verification. PesaCheck also helps watchdog media and NGOs establish their own standalone fact-check teams, and works with universities across the continent to train a new generation of civic watchdogs. PesaCheck is an initiative of Code for Africa (CfA) and was established in 2017 with an innovateAFRICA.fund award.

Meedan is a global technology not-for-profit that builds software and programmatic initiatives to strengthen journalism, digital literacy, and accessibility of information. Meedan builds Check, an open-source software platform for fact-checking and content annotation and runs Health Desk, a service that brings together public health professionals to provide expertise and summaries of challenging public health concepts on-request for journalists, fact-checking organizations, and media outlets. Meedan also runs Check Global, a project to improve digital literacy, community-building and political engagement skills for citizen journalists, activists, journalism students, civil society organizations and human rights defenders, and the Digital Health Lab, which focuses on applied research and policy for improving the quality and equity of online health information. 

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AIRA is a WHO-hosted network that brings together governmental and intergovernmental operational agencies as well as non-State actors/entities to mobilise in response to the COVID-19 Infodemic and to the infodemic threat in general.

Its members include governmental and intergovernmental organisations, and participating entities include fact-checking organisations, academic institutions and philanthropic foundations.

By leveraging the diversity of strengths among its collaborating members, the alliance aims to limit the spread of harmful health misinformation and disinformation in Africa.

It endeavors to achieve this through: coordinating infodemic response efforts, boosting infodemic research, predicting and preventing misinformation, strengthening citizens’ resilience to mis/disinformation, empowering media partners to professionally and effectively share lifesaving information and debunk disinformation on health issues, encouraging proactive disclosure by data holders, and through early identification of mis/disinformation trends and providing a timely and a strategic response at regional and country levels.

More broadly, this alliance comes together in order to lay the foundation for a sustainable collaboration for promoting fact-based health information and limiting the harmful impact of health misinformation in Africa.

The WHO uses the term “infodemic” to refer to the overabundance of information, especially false or misleading information, that occurs during a public health crisis. An infodemic leads to confusion and ultimately mistrust in the public health response, and can cause deaths among populations if not checked in time.

There is no silver bullet that will put an end to health misinformation. We know that infodemics cannot be eliminated, but they can be managed.

The Africa Infodemic Response Alliance is the first regional collaborative network of its kind that brings together operational agencies and fact checking organisations under one umbrella to fight infodemics.

At the time of its launch, the Africa Infodemic Response Alliance includes eight members (including WHO) and five fact-checking organisations, who are considered participating entities in the Alliance.

  • Members: Africa CDC, IFRC, UN Verified, UNESCO, UNICEF, UN Global Pulse, US CDC and WHO.
  • Participating entities: Africa Check, AFP Fact Check, Pesa Check, Dubawa and Meedan

AIRA’s work focuses on five areas:

  1. Coordination: Harmonising the different efforts that are responding to the infodemic threat at regional and country levels.
  2. Infodemiology Research: Producing research to better understand infodemics and how to respond to them.
  3. Advocacy: Working with member states on adding infodemic response to their list of priorities.
  4. Country Support: Supporting member states with a comprehensive infodemic management strategy and solutions.
  5. Viral Facts: a public-facing brand representing the work of the alliance.

The Misinformation Management Framework is a strategic approach to misinformation response developed in 2020 after a WHO-hosted consultation attended by more than 1300 experts in fields ranging from healthcare to the social sciences.

The framework is structured around four pillars:

  • Identify information gaps and misinformation,
  • Simplify the technical knowledge,
  • Amplify the correct information and
  • Quantify the impact of the interventions.

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Contact

Sergio Ceccini
Infodemic Management Officer
WHO Regional Office for Africa
E-mail: cecchinis [at] who.int
Tel: +32471439127