BAGHDAD | coronavirus? A “conspiracy” american! How to get rid of it? “Summer kills the virus!” On social networks in Arabic, the false information about the COVID-19 proliferate much to the chagrin of the collective who are trying to re-establish essential truths.
“By correcting the information, we save lives,” said AFP Baher Jassem, a member of the collective Tech 4 Peace who is tracking the disinformation for the past four years in Iraq.
Several times a day, this squad of militants belonging to the Net sharing whatever million subscribers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram patches of false information.
The pattern is always the same: that they correct the announcement of a cure so-called miraculous or the announced death to mistake for a celebrity, the false information appears in screen capture, crossed out with a red pad “Attention, infox!” and is accompanied by detailed explanations and sourcées.
“The idea is not only to expose the lies. It is also to give the good info on the disease, ways to protect ourselves, to avoid false remedies,” Mr. Jassem.
This “fact-checking” (checking of facts, editor’s NOTE) happens at a time when many countries in the arab world is entering the most critical phase of the pandemic.
Long preserved, Iraq now saves nearly 3,000 new cases per day. Oman, Algeria and Lebanon have reached peaks of contamination in mid-July, just after saudi Arabia and Jordan.
While the health authorities to recommend the utmost caution, the false information online lead some people to not wear masks or do not comply with the instructions of distancing physical, assured the AFP of many doctors.
In Iraq, they say they have heard it all: “the novel coronavirus is a plot of” american, according to some patients. “In reality, the dead of the COVID-19 have been the victims of an attack at a gas secret,” say others. “The big heat of the summer kills all viruses,” repeat a good number of Iraqis.
The misinformation is not exclusive to the arab world, but it is all the more dangerous that local authorities have strengthened their control on the media about the pandemic, according to the NGO Reporters without borders.
For militant anti-infox, this control makes people more distrustful against media established and more likely to believe what they read on the internet.
“There is no media education. The Iraqis are going to on Facebook and Twitter, but they are not equipped to do the sorting between fact and fiction,” says to AFP, Faisal al-Moutar.
This Iraqi expatriate in the United States founded Ideas Beyond Borders (IBB), a network that has already been translated into Arabic, in partnership with Wikipedia, over 250 pages of information on the virus.
The translation for the whole of the arab world is a daily puzzle, ensures Issam Fawwaz, a member of IBB who lives in Tripoli, Lebanon.
“The scientific terms are not unified: a word used in Syria, in Lebanon or in Jordan is completely different in Egypt or in Morocco”, he explains to AFP.
“A personal matter”
No matter the difficulties, ” says the translator of 33 years, “for me, it is a personal matter: I have long believed in the infox, fortunately, people have pushed me to use my brain”.
“It only takes one person convinced by an infox to cause a disaster in any community.”
To be visible, the Jordanian group “Fatabayyano” (“Check!” in Arabic) have decided to go through the same channels as the false information that they correct.
Since 2014, they send their patches to thousands of subscribers by channels WhatsApp.
This e-mail is one of the main suppliers of infox in the region. With 75 % of users among the internet users, the arabs, the platform became a place of sharing solid information whose authenticity is impossible to verify.
Unlike Facebook or Twitter, the WhatsApp messages are encrypted and therefore cannot be read and reported by the platform.
“The infox spread faster than real information” on WhatsApp, ensures the AFP Motaz al-Thaher, a member of Fatabayyano.
Then, the group tries to be present everywhere: on his site, with long articles in Arabic, on Instagram, with graphics and on Facebook with videos for its 800 000 subscribers.
With a single slogan: “The rumors are also viruses!”