Understanding Disinformation and its Impact on Africa

Disinformation is defined as false or misleading information that is spread deliberately or unconsciously to the public. It can be spread through various media, including social media platforms, websites, and news outlets. In Africa, disinformation is often used to manipulate public opinion, spread hate and incite violence, and undermine the credibility of leaders and institutions like the Kenya's 2017 elections. Also, during the outbreak, false information about the causes and cures for Ebola circulated widely on social media and through word of mouth. This disinformation led to widespread fear, panic, and mistrust of health authorities and medical personnel. Some people even refused to seek medical treatment or follow the guidelines provided by health authorities, leading to the spread of the virus.

The impact of disinformation on African communities can be devastating, as it can cause harm to individuals and communities, create social and political divisions, and undermine public trust in institutions and leaders. In 2019, during the presidential election, there were reports of widespread disinformation campaigns aimed at manipulating public opinion. Fake news stories and propaganda were shared on social media, targeting both major political parties. Some of the false information included claims that one of the candidates was a clone, or that the election had been rigged. For example, false information about the spread of disease or the effectiveness of treatments can lead to panic and mistrust in health systems, while false political information can cause widespread unrest and violence. Some examples include;

1. "Misinformation About COVID-19 and Amplification on Social Media": https://cyber.harvard.edu/publication/2020/misinformation-about-covid-19-and-amplification-social-media

2. "How Fake News and Disinformation about COVID-19 Is Exacerbating Social Tensions in Africa": https://www.africa.undp.org/content/rba/en/home/blog/2020/how-fake-news-and-disinformation-about-covid-19-is-exacerbating-.html

The Role of NGOs in Countering Disinformation

NGOs and charity organizations play a critical role in countering disinformation in Africa, as they are in direct contact with the communities they serve as well as through their activities can impact them in a positive manner.. Organizations can use their knowledge and expertise to provide accurate information, promote critical thinking skills, and encourage people to engage in fact-checking and media literacy activities. Some of these NGOs include; Africa Check, PesaCheck, Dubawa, Media Monitoring Africa, and Code for Africa, which work to promote accuracy in public debate and media reporting, verify information, monitor media coverage of social justice issues, and enhance data journalism and media literacy.

One effective way that NGOs can counter disinformation is by partnering with local media outlets to promote media literacy and critical thinking skills. For example, NGOs in Nigeria, such as Paradigm Initiative, ‘Enough is Enough’ Nigeria (EiE), and the Nigerian Press Organization (NPO), have partnered with local media outlets like Premium Times, Channels TV, and the British Council to promote media literacy and critical thinking skills in combating disinformation.

NGOs can also use their platforms and networks to spread accurate information and provide a counter-narratives to disinformation by collaborating with credible sources, using social media, conducting training and awareness programs, creating online resources, engaging with the media, and monitoring and reporting instances of disinformation. This can involve creating content that is engaging, informative, and easy to understand, and using social media and other digital channels to reach a wide audience.

Best Practices for Countering Disinformation by NGOs

To effectively counter disinformation, NGOs in Africa must adopt best practices that are grounded in research and evidence-based strategies. For example, if an NGO is working on a project related to reducing poverty, they may use evidence-based strategies such as providing financial literacy training, offering micro-loans, or implementing cash transfer programs. These strategies have been studied and shown to be effective in reducing poverty. Some researches and guides include; Countering Disinformation, The European Committee of the Regions Handbook on Online-disinformation Here are some of the key best practices for countering disinformation:

  • Building partnerships with local media outlets and civil society organizations to promote media literacy and critical thinking skills.

  • Using data and research to understand the spread of disinformation and the impact it is having on communities.

  • Creating and promoting accurate, engaging, and easy-to-understand content that provides a counter-narratives to disinformation.

  • Engaging in fact-checking and verification activities to ensure that the information being spread is accurate and credible.

  • Encouraging people to engage in media literacy activities, such as fact-checking, critical analysis, and media literacy training sessions.

Disinformation is a growing problem in Africa, and it has the potential to cause harm to individuals and communities, create social and political divisions, and undermine public trust in institutions and leaders. NGOs and charity organizations have a crucial role in countering disinformation. By adopting best practices and collaborating with local media outlets and civil society organizations, they can facilitate the promotion of media literacy and critical thinking skills. Furthermore, they can provide a counter-narrative to disinformation.

Building resilience relies heavily on the strength of positive narratives and accurate information. By identifying the problem, developing a strategy, collaborating with partners and building a network of like-minded organizations. Utilizing the effectiveness of positive narratives and precise information involves employing strategies such as promoting accurate information through media literacy and critical thinking skills, sharing positive success stories, providing accurate and timely information, and collaborating with partners to build a network of like-minded organizations.

If you want to dive deeper into the subject of disinformation, register to our free, online course on "Countering Disinformation":