WhatsApp is top information source for COVID-19 in Africa

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 20 Mar 2020

Social media has come out as the top information source South Africans, Kenyans and Nigerians use for news on the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

This is insight from GeoPoll, which conducted a survey via SMS in SA, Kenya and Nigeria, to determine information on awareness and perceptions of coronavirus as it spreads in Sub-Saharan Africa.

South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria have all reported cases of the deadly virus, with SA reporting the most cases so far. The country currently has 202 confirmed cases.

The World Health Organisation has declared coronavirus a pandemic, as the rate of infections across the globe continues to soar.

GeoPoll deployed the SMS survey from 10 to 13 March in the three countries, examining awareness levels, primary information sources, knowledge of how to prevent the virus, and levels of worry.The study had a total sample size of 1 350 (450 per country).

Forty-seven percent of the survey respondents revealed social media is the most common source of information on coronavirus, followed by TV and radio.

It states: “A large percent, 75%, said they had seen information on WhatsApp regarding coronavirus, and there was scepticism around this information, with 66% rating it ‘somewhat truthful’ compared to 20% who thought information seen on WhatsApp was ‘completely truthful’.

“The response to the local media, international media and government communications surrounding coronavirus was generally positive, with global media being given the highest scores in each country on their effective communication of the disease.”

This, however, comes as the South African government has warned against the spread of digital misinformation as it tries to curb the spread of the disease in the country.

This week, government announced that spreading fake news or disinformation about coronavirus is a punishable offence.

It said: “Any person who publishes any statement, through any medium, including social media, with the intention to deceive any other person about COVID-19, the infection of any person or any measure taken by the state to address the virus – commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months, or both such fine and imprisonment.”

Cape on WhatsApp

The Western Cape Provincial Parliament (WCPP) yesterday announced its plan of action in light of the disease, which includes using WhatsApp as an official means of communicating with employees and members.

However, to limit the spread of fake news and misinformation, the WCPP says the administrator will be the only person providing official information in the WhatsApp group.

The provincial parliament notes it is discontinuing the use of biometric scanners with immediate effect, adding it is cancelling incoming tour groups and visits, public outreach and education activities, all outgoing international visits, while local travel is limited to essential travel only.

Furthermore, all members and employees, who have been in contact with infected persons, have to self-quarantine for a minimum of 14 days.

“In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in consultation with the Western Cape Provincial Parliament’s Programming Authority, which represents all political parties in the legislature, it has been decided to expedite parliamentary processes to allow for the consideration of the province’s budget by 20 March.

“This decision was unanimously supported by the speaker’s Consultative Political Party Forum. We will then encourage our members to work in their constituencies and practice social distancing in order to reduce the spread of the virus.

“In addition, we will be encouraging our staff, where possible, to work from home. We have every intention of ensuring the operations of the WCPP are not negatively affected and will have limited attendance at the office. This arrangement will be observed until 18 April, at which stage we hope the level of spread will have reduced to such an extent as to allow for normal activities to continue.”