Covid-19 and fake news


Plato, the Greek philosopher described knowledge as “justified true belief”. This philosophy focuses on the fact that the way we reason, perceive reality, most of which are driven by our own observations of the world around us, is not always consistent with truth.

This highlights the significant role of providing citizens with information that is justified and reliable. The need for information is very crucial because it allows intellectual development in a subject area, especially in a critical time.  The provision of relevant information to the public in times of crisis allows them to make well-informed decisions and take appropriate actions to protect their health and safety. This is the main reason why fake news or misinformation is very dangerous to the public.

Recently, there has been an upsetting increase in the spread of fake news related to Covid-19 and that is very appalling and terrifying. Fake news is designed to provoke sentiment, influence opinion or political process, deceive readers and create confusion in society. The power of social media to spread ideas, thoughts, insights, emotions to a wider audience is now used as a conduit to spread false information, tarnish reputations and engage in other corrupt activities. The bigger question is what actions are being taken against the perpetrators and what is being done to curb the fake news spread?

According to research by Ahiabenu and others in 2018, the Ghanaian media landscape does not have the relevant systems, budget and the appropriate personnel to battle the perils of fake news. This has far-reaching implications on our democratic system of governance judging from the huge crowd of news consumers in Ghana who depend on social media and online portals for news and relevant information.

Fake news spread, especially in this Covid-19 pandemic is really intensifying panic and fear and also misleading others to take wrong protective actions.

You may have seen or heard of the fake story about Ghana recording its first case at the University of Ghana. This news caused fear, panic and anxiety in Ghanaians, turning the whole country in chaos until BBC drew the attention of the public on March 12, 2020, stating the story was false and should be ignored.

You may have also heard or read in the news published by the West African Health Organization (WAHO) with the image title “COVID-19 CASE ECOWAS REGION UPDATE” claiming 31 coronavirus patients have recovered and discharged in Ghana which was later declared to be false by the Ghana Health Service.

You may have also come across the misinformation on the cure for coronavirus which was bandied on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp which is putting lives at risk.

Just a week ago, Ghanaians were driven into fear and panic when there was a news outbreak that Ghana’s number of cases of coronavirus is increased from 566 to1064. This misleading news is ravaging therefore, it should not be overlooked.

Facebook Head of Public Policy for Anglophone West Africa, Adaora Ikenze, indicated that Ghana and other African countries would not report fake accounts and content on social media but rather forward these materials and this is becoming problematic.

Fake news has become a major challenge in the mainstream media. It has become like a virus spreading rapidly even to the extent that some media houses have been publishing stories from these fake websites without verifying its authenticity.

Most fake news stories can be recognized with headlines not matching contents; contents triggering fear, astonishment and shock in readers; narrations sometimes arousing hatred towards a particular public figure or political candidate or party. Some also come along with no sources or fake websites that cannot be verified.

It is about time we desisted from sharing every post we see on social media without verifying the source. Fake news spread will only aggravate the coronavirus situation in Ghana rather than help solve it. We, the social media users are the instruments used to spread fake news online by perpetrators. By sharing whatever information we come into contact with to other social networks, we greatly increase its reach and potential negative impact on society.

Let’s help fight COVID-19 pandemic by putting a stop to forwarding inciting posts and reports which is intensifying fear, panic and endangering lives. Media houses must ensure they publish credible stories from credible sources to avoid the dissemination of fake news which will breach the trust in the media and state institutions.

During this pandemic, the ability to access relevant information is extremely important. Thus, government must provide updates on COVID-19 to citizens rapidly and consistently to prevent people from cooking their data just to satisfy the curiosity of Ghanaians.  Government must work with technological organisations to help identify fake news especially on social media and punish those involved severely with prison sentences and huge fines. The National Media Commission and all media houses must unite to help check and curtail the exposure of fake news to consumers.

Accurate information is a citizen’s right and must not, therefore, be tampered with.