Depending on the source, “fake news” can be a smear on reputable news outlets just trying to do their job. But in other hands, it can be a source of misleading rumors read by thousands that do damage and are hard to correct.
Such was the story titled “Scandal in Senegal” that circled West Africa and was shared thousands of times on Facebook, claiming that seven children died in Senegal after being injected with a COVID-19 vaccine.
“There is a big scandal in Senegal,” declaimed a French voiceover in a Facebook video. “There is a guy who came into a house to get kids vaccinated for coronavirus. He vaccinated seven children who died on the spot.”
But that came as a surprise to Alassane Mbodji, who lives in the house seen in the video. “Everything that is said on social networks is false. No one died of any vaccine. Our children are healthy… The fellow introduced himself as an agent of the Health Ministry but we quickly realized that he was not. He did not have a badge. He had cosmetic products for sale in his bag,” he said.
Because he was pretending to be a public agent to sell his products — flouting rules barring people from entering others’ homes — he reported him to the authorities, according to a local report.
A spokeswoman for Senegal’s health ministry also rejected the story that appeared on social media.
First of all, there is no vaccine, she declared. “We have medical experts at the Institut Pasteur (a medical research institute) in Dakar working to create and certify a vaccine according to procedure. They will be completely transparent about their findings.”
“Senegal is a sovereign country and even if there was a vaccine, nobody could oblige us to vaccine our citizens”, the spokeswoman said.
Another Facebook post spreading misinformation warns that face masks are “supposed to be used for a limited time” as they reduce oxygen “in the blood” & “to the brain”, cause weakness, and “may lead to death”.
This latest bout of misinformation emerged despite a recent partnership between Facebook and Africa Check, an independent fact-checking organization, and a promise to expand the number of languages fact-checked by 10.
Noko Makgato, executive director of Africa Check, says the expansion helps ensure that misinformation in languages other than English and French can be identified and tackled.
SOURCE: Global Information Network