UNESCO Trains Kenyan Youths on Tackling COVID-19 related Disinformation

The Internet has made the world a global village where the production and dissemination of information has become easier than ever before. Indeed, amidst restrictions on movement and physical gatherings to curtail the spread of COVID-19 the use of Internet for teleworking, remote schooling and social gatherings has accelerated and we see an unprecedented traffic on social media.

But this situation has also led to new emerging challenges, notably that of the spread of disinformation, ever growing since the COVID-19 outbreak. False information regarding fake cures, wild conspiracy theories on the origin of the virus and false and harmful health advice have dominated various media platforms, especially social media.

The spread of false information and disinformation threatens the effectiveness of response strategies to combat this pandemic. It creates confusion, fear and distrust between citizens, healthcare professionals, and governments.

This situation underpins a UNESCO series of virtual capacity building workshops targeting young people on media and information literacy to tackle disinformation and misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic. The trainings were held on 14 –15 October 21 –22 October, and 28 –29 October and were facilitated by the Africa Center for People, Institutions and Society, in partnership with Search for Common Grounds and were funded by the European Union, as part of the #CoronavirusFacts project to address the ‘disinfodemic’ on COVID-19 in Kenya.

“We are addressing the disinfodemic around COVID-19 in two ways – strengthening and reinforcing capacities of journalists to provide factual information while also enhancing the capacity of the audience, particularly the youth, to be more discerning to separate facts from untruths,” explained John Okande, National Programme Officer for Communication and Information Sector at UNESCO.

Kenneth Okwaroh, the Executive Director of Africa Center for People, Institutions and Society emphasises:

“Empowering youth through media and information literacy is critical for strengthening their capacity to access and verify information, to distinguish the truths from the “fakes”, and to empower them to create and share accurate and verifiable information within the community. We are delighted to be part of such a noble initiative”.

Two hundred and thirty-three (233) young people comprising 116 men and 117 women from 32 counties across Kenya benefited from these trainings. Together, they represent 138 youth organizations working in as diverse programme areas as media development, sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender-based violence, community development, economic empowerment, social justice and health, among others.

The trainings equipped participants with theoretical and practical skills to identify, flag, debunk and counter disinformation and misinformation. Among topics covered by exercises were forms of information disorder, alternative media and the spread of disinformation fact-checking, social media verification and combating online abuse.

Participants commented:

“Thank you for the amazing opportunity. It has been quite resourceful. I will now be a great ambassador of combating fake news especially during this COVID-19 period in my local community,” said John Wangai of the Youth Senate, Laikipia County.

“The training was very insightful, educative and informative. I can confidently say that I can distinguish between disinformation, misinformation and other forms of information disorder. I can also use verification tools to check information I find online”, argued Fatuma Hassan from The Youthing Magazine, Nakuru County.

To Antony Kauku a participant from Kenyatta University, Nairobi County, “the sessions have been so informative and educative. Thanks to the sponsors, UNESCO and EU, facilitators and participants for the wonderful training. It is now every individual’s task to carry out what they have been trained in”.

“It was an informative training session. It is now time to implement the gained knowledge and skills lessons”, intimated Elsheber Oketch at the end of his training, with ambition to share his new skills with his peers from Chipkizi Youth Group, Kwale County.

Enhancing Media And Information Literacy (MIL) competencies among youth organizations, and other stakeholders is a key feature of UNESCO’s strategy to promote knowledge societies and foster the development of free, independent and pluralistic media and universal access to information and knowledge for good governance.