The most recent outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo was successful – not only to help respondents who had suffered nearly 400 attacks since the outbreak began in 2018, but also for those people who have been affected. was fighting with the spread of misrepresentation about the disease.
Papy Mumbere Mahamba was one of those casualties. In November 2019, the community radio broadcaster was executed in his house in Lwemba – a town in the heart of the Ebola outbreak zone.
Mahamba worked with Eulola, Congolese Ministry of Health, to broadcast information on Radio Lwemba about the disease to the local community.
Joel Musavuli, director of the radio station, told the New Humanities that he and his team received phone threat calls, and even visits to the station, from people who said they would talk to anyone who spoke about Ebola. air before the attack. .
Shortly after Mahamba's death, Musavuli Radio Lwemba decided to close.
With the station's final broadcast, the community lost one vital information source at Ebola crisis heights killed 2,235 people and counted, but also bulwark against the tidal waves of misrepresentation falling in eastern Congo since the outbreak began.
According to field surveys carried out by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), many people in the region remain suspicious of the disease and dissatisfaction associated with the response.
There are still rumors – including claims that fake Ebola faux, that respondents are stealing organs from the dead, that the disease is meant to eliminate those in the opposition's fortress, and that the money-making enterprise is the an outbreak for a small number of people.
Margaret Harris, spokesperson for the World Health Organization (WHO) – the UN chief agency supporting the Congolese government, who led the response to the outbreak – described it as "infodemic".
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While significant progress has been made with new vaccines and treatments, assaults have been repeatedly suspended due to assaults – which can promote poor courage and misrepresentation. “A rumor can take her own life very quickly,” Harris said.
While health workers and humanitarian groups are building strategies to combat misrepresentation, rumors over control over WhatsApp – the most popular messaging app in the Congo – are often highly sought after.
A study by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative analyzed more than 80,000 WhatsApp messages sent over eight major group conversations between 28 August, 2018 and 1 October, 2018.
In the only 34 days measured, Patrick Vinck and Phuong Pham co-authors found 13 per cent – about 10,400 messages – referring or spreading rumors and misrepresentations about Ebola.
This is something that Rhys O'Neill got in his work too.
NNeill is an analyst at Novetta, a contract analytics company with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a government agency in the United States. As part of NIH's efforts to test drugs and treatments for Ebola, Novetta helps to monitor public attitudes to the disease.
Neill has monitored 19 WhatsApp groups in Beni and Butembo – two of the largest cities in the outbreak zone – for almost a year. Each group has between 100 and 300 members.
To filter thousands of messages each month through the groups, Novetta built a proprietary platform to parse and code the messages for children under Ebola and the response.
A small field team, Congo-based – with the help of local journalists – collects ground surveys, local media reports, and radio transcripts that are also installed in the system. This information is returned to the NIH and others involved in the response.
Neill said that the types of rumors coming up on WhatsApp were consistent and do not show any signs of mitigation.
“I still see a lot of rumors and misrepresentations on those groups I was picking in March and April,” he told TNH.
According to Harris, an outbreak such as Ebola does not have uncommon misrepresentations and rumors, but in the Congo, the same distortions and distortions are kept back.
Efforts to build public confidence in the most difficult provinces in Northern Kivu and Ituri are a continuing challenge.
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The decade of armed conflict with about 100 armed community groups left in the region wary.
Many people question why money suddenly came to treat Ebola people but they were not available earlier to protect them from violence or to treat other diseases such as measles or cholera. The area was a long-standing opposition, very confident in central government in Kinsale, and now in charge of the response.
“It is less about getting messages back or saying that there is a particular rumor, and more about using this information to prepare health workers and community leaders to have the right information at the moment.” T
Local institutions, including the media, are generally weak, and corruption is common. Together, these factors have created a great storm for misrepresentation.
“When institutions don't trust… then the rumors go ahead,” said Claire Wardle, co-founder of First Draft News, a non-profit organization working with journalists, academics, and technologists to combat misrepresentation.
Propagation by family and friends
In Northern Kivu only an estimated 26% of people use any type of internet service for information, according to the HHI study. But there are other ways in which rumors can make their way into and out of WhatsApp. More than anything, researchers found that people depended on family and friends to find out about Ebola.
Karen Greiner, senior consultant of UNICEF's community engagement and communication efforts in Congo, said that it only takes a few people to communicate on social media or messaging platforms to help spread rumors through a community.
Greiner explained that the best response strategy is often to give the right information.
“For us,” she said, “it's not less about returning messages or saying that there is a particular rumor, and more about using that information to prepare health workers and community leaders. to have the right information at the moment.
The use of a co-ordinated unit established to deal with public participation – involving the IFRC, the WHO, UNICEF, and other organizations – even nearly a year of survey data collected by Red Cross field staff to address t the top 25 questions about Ebola.
The goal was to assist response workers to stop misrepresentation and rumors before they spread by making them more able to respond to the most common questions, according to Ombudsman Baggio, senior adviser for public participation by the IFRC. .
Greiner said that local stations such as Radio Lwemba played a vital role in combating misconduct. According to HHI, almost three quarters of people surveyed in Northern Kivu received their radio information. This can be a double sword, as O Neill and his team discovered that rumors that put the Ebola response under pressure can also find their way into the airwaves.
The only rumor discussed on social media as well as the air – which strongly rejected the response – is that Ebola health workers sometimes move the organs of the dead, involving them for sale abroad.
Neill said, before one of the 28 local radio stations he monitors, rumors appear that he often finds that there is plenty of activity around the content of the WhatsApp groups that follow him.
Who is responsible?
A representative from Facebook, who owns WhatsApp, told your TNH about emails that the company has taken steps to deal with inaccurate information on its main social media platform, Facebook.com. These included training civil society organizations in using the platform and encouraging “responsible behavior”.
In October, more than a year into the epidemic, Facebook announced that it would partner with the international news agency AFP and the television broadcaster France24 to check misrepresentation in the Congo to check the scene.
However, while the fact that these fact-checkers do not appear to be the least frequent in users' news feeds, Facebook representatives did not confirm whether these posts were being achieved.
Greiner said that UNICEF met with Facebook representatives to discuss advertising credit that would add to the arrival of the accurate health information shared with the Facebook response, but no agreement was reached yet.
“At some point, we need to move from the platform as this neutral tool,” said Patrick Vinck, one of the HHI study authors. “The scene itself has a role.”
But WhatsApp is difficult even for its parent to police because of its encryption, Wardle, explained the First Draft News. “This is not Facebook, which they cannot, or refuse, misrepresent,” she said. “They don't know what messages are being shared.”
With the encryption, Wardle said that many users could be undermined as well as WhatsApp – its emphasis on privacy.
Because they talked about Ebola on the air, Musavali and his team did not end Musavali or his team out of danger. “Even so far, we get death threats,” he said. With the closure of the station, Musavali said it was even more worrying, as the information is now “not accessible to all”.
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