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In 2020, the World Health Organization partnered with the United Kingdom to create and distribute content to combat the spread of misinformation related to the burgeoning COVID-19 pandemic.

It started with the ‘Stop the Spread’ campaign between May and June with the aim of raising awareness of the risks of misleading information about the pandemic.

This was followed by the launch of ‘Reporting Misinformation’ which showed people how to not only verify information but also report misinformation to various social media platforms.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres tweeted that “Our common enemy is #COVID19, but our enemy is also an ‘infodemic’ of misinformation. To overcome the #coronavirus, we need to urgently promote facts & science, hope & solidarity over despair & division.”

In the first 3 months of 2020, nearly 6,000 people around the globe were hospitalized with COVID-19, with researchers saying that at least 800 people may have died within that time period.

Like other organizations, News Verifier Africa, a non-profit organization, wanted to combat viral COVID misinformation. In 2020, the outlet was established to keep up with the pace of false and misleading claims as well as help spread correct information.

The site’s co-founder, Olakunle Mohammed, said that he and his team were motivated to start the outlet after a Facebook page they had created where they fact-checked claims about the virus got a positive response from the public.

“We wanted to improve public access to accurate information, by simplifying fact-checks and creating varied appealing formats for fact-checked news, data, and viral images,” he said.

He explained that although there are other fact-checking platforms, the spread of misinformation required that there should be more platforms to keep up with the pace of false and misleading claims and help to spread the right and verified information.

Last year, the outlet received funding from the European Union, under its #VaccineSafe project, to conduct fact-checking on COVID-19 related claims and create awareness about the virus and vaccines.

“The grant came after a fact-checking training which was carried out by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) in partnership with Centre for Information Resilience (CIR), the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), and Africa Uncensored,” he said.

In order to undertake fact-checking, the outlet operates with a five-step editorial process, including identification of the claim, finding data to either support or debunk the claim, analyzing the potential impact of the claim, and verifying the claim with fact-checking tools, and the publication of any findings.

Apart from fact-checking claims, Mohammed said that the outlet also publishes reports from other platforms for readers to have a single source to confirm any claims.

In June of last year, the outlet debunked a video claiming that students in Lagos ran away from having to take the vaccine. It found that the video was that of students fleeing from an explosion in a separate part of Nigeria, unrelated to COVID.

The outlet also found misleading claims made by Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu that the collection of samples for COVID-19 testing are freely available in centres across the state.

Apart from stories around COVID-19 misinformation, the outlet has also fact-checked public policy, elections, falsified data, several prominent politicians, as well as government agencies.

Mohammed said that within the last two years, the outlet has improved public access to accurate information and unbiased truth, which is the only way to develop a just and democratic society.

However, he said that the outlet faces the twin challenges of accessing data to support fact-checking and government agencies delayed responses to freedom of information requests.

“There are times when you see claims and want to fact-check, but during your research, you discover that there is no available data.” He adds that there is also a lack of interest in reading legitimate news on debunked claims on the part of the public.

Arinze Chijioke is a Nigeria based freelance journalist. He writes stories on conflict, development, climate change, global health among others. He has had his works published in the African Exponent, Ynaija, and THISDAY newspaper, among other media outlets.