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How Content Publishers Can Contribute to COVID-19 Digital Response

By Guest Writer on April 15, 2020

who covid19 infodemic

You can to contribute significantly to Covid-19 Digital Response efforts whether you work in the digital health space or not.

You can be involved in responding to the coronavirus pandemic if you publish content to users in low- and middle-income countries through a mobile app, mobile site, chatbot, Facebook page, Tik Tok account, IVR/SMS service, or WhatsApp group.

Here are four ways content publishers like you can make a difference.

1. Promote Trustworthy Information Sources

Now more than ever it’s vital to saturate communication channels with a select number of trustworthy, accessible sources of health information. It’s particularly important that we avoid replicating services and create a sense of unity in what we’re promoting.

A sensible place to start is the newly released WHO WhatsApp chatbot which allows users to get answers to common questions, learn how to protect themselves from the virus, and more. Alternatively, U-Report has developed a youth-friendly Covid-19 chatbot for WhatsApp, Messenger and Viber providing WHO verified information, with the added ability to report rumours and fake news.

Country-specific information matters more than ever, so you should also keep an eye on the Coronavirus Info Hub where WhatsApp, in partnership with WHO, UNICEF and UNDP, will be publishing a directory of country-specific messaging based services as they get rolled out in partnership with national governments (full list of shareable links and instructions below).

Finally, consider attending one of the Turn.io weekly WhatsApp Town Halls to keep track of other government backed WhatsApp services. Praekelt.org and Turn.io are making their HealthAlert platform available for free with support in multiple languages.

Covid-19 Connect”, developed in partnership with the National Department of Health in South Africa using HealthAlert, received messages from over 1 million users in just three days after launching. If no such service is in the pipeline for your country, Turn.io includes guidelines for how you can set one up if you’re in a position to do so.

You can find other examples of digital tools used for prevention communication in ICTWorks’ live directory of potential Global Digital Health solutions for coronavirus response, and you can suggest anything not listed here.

2. Take Action to Curb Misinformation

We’re not just facing a health pandemic, we’re also dealing with an unprecedented global ‘infodemic’. This makes it doubly important to promote a small cluster of reliable sources of information – and we also need to teach users to recognise and respond to rumours and misinformation.

‘Fake news’ stories spread on social media are somewhat easier to spot and debunk publicly than those shared via Instant Messaging apps. I’ve received over a dozen problematic messages from contacts or groups all over the world in the past week alone, often starting with “My friend’s sister’s husband’s step-son is a doctor…”, and advising people to attack any symptoms with a solution of warm water, vodka and lime.

In recent years, WhatsApp have (tentatively) tried to curb the spread of fake news by adding a ‘forwarded’ watermark to messages, limiting the number of contacts users can forward a message to to five (at a time), and bringing fact checking organisations onto WhatsApp so they can crowdsource and report on misinformation spreading via Instant Messaging or SMS.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, they also announced a $1m donation to the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) to help grow the amount of organisations on WhatsApp.

As content publishers we can do our bit to support the efforts by WhatsApp, IFCN and others by:

  1. Raising awareness of the issue of misinformation and helping our audiences understand why it’s dangerous, using examples relevant to their lives.
  2. Teaching users to spot a potential piece of misinformation or hoax, how to verify whether it’s been fact-checked, and showing them how to easily report it. You could even create a fake news challenge with an airtime prize and get users to submit fake news to your service, and report their submissions yourself.
  3. Creating or updating community guidelines relating to fake news, and reminding users of them, as well as upping your moderation of chat groups or comment threads. There’s a great example from ONE below, who work with a network of Nigerian youth activists on health campaigns.

3. Allow Story Sharing and Creativity

Story sharing is an often-overlooked power tool in the fight to grow knowledge, change attitudes and shift behaviours. I was reminded of this recently at a Digital Sexuality Education conference, where an LGBTQ youth activist reminded us that generic information often isn’t enough to provide answers that feel relevant enough to shift our attitudes and behaviours.

More often, we build answers and solutions for ourselves, pieced together from exposure to the experiences of others in situations similar to our own.

As publishers, we can create (carefully curated) spaces where users are free to share their experiences, feelings or solutions. These spaces can provide comfort and inspiration, and also have the potential to reinforce positive social norms in relation to the coronavirus crisis.

Stories can also be repurposed in creative ways to create more relevant media for behaviour change communication, a strategy employed by organisations like ZMQ in their YourStoryTeller app. The creative output and humour which emerges from these spaces is also a welcome distraction from the rampant anxiety – which reminds me…

4. Take a Break

If you’re satisfied that you’ve followed the steps above, then please, resume business as normal. As the recent spike in adult site traffic proves, we’re in need of pleasurable distraction more than ever. Plus, a disrupted sense of normality makes us exceptionally receptive to novelty – so now’s the time to try out those new content or feature ideas you’ve been putting off for fear of rocking the boat.

Do you have more examples of great responses from social impact content providers to the coronavirus pandemic? Post them in the comments and we’ll update the article to provide more inspiration for others.

Isabelle Amazon-Brown is a service design and content consultant working with organisations like UNICEF and Girl Effect to create accessible, enjoyable digital products and content for social impact.

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