Pandemic And Infodemic: Coronavirus And Fake News in Africa

Updated: May 20, 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads and panic consumes the world, the proliferation of dis/misinformation around it is a cause for alarm too. African nations have to date reported a low number of confirmed cases of infection but are faced with a tide of fake news. Many governments have responded by threatening to prosecute individuals spreading misinformation. The World Health Organisation is concerned about what it calls a “pernicious infodemic'' as misinformation seems to be spreading faster than the rate of infection in Africa.

South Africa has enacted a state of emergency and this week gazetted regulations which prohibit fake news or publication with the intention to deceive regarding coronavirus, the infection status of anyone or any measure undertaken by government to address the pandemic. Conviction of these is punishable by a fine or 6 months imprisonment and other penalties.

The Botswana government is also grappling with misinformation, and expressed its concern about the volume of misleading information circulating on social media and has appealed to citizens to scrutinise the source of their information and to refrain from spreading information that is “misleading and distressing”.

Kenyan government spokesperson, Cyrus Oguna, this week stated that the government was determined to confront “'fallacies'' being spread and he warned of prosecution and stiff penalties for guilty parties. Oguna added that cases have already been forwarded to the cybercrime unit and prosecuting authority, with arrests to follow. Under the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act anyone convicted of intentionally publishing false information is liable for a fine and/or imprisonment of up to 2 years. This week a man was arrested and charged with spreading false information that causes panic.