Youth volunteers bust COVID-19 myths and combat misinformation

Trained by UNICEF on spotting social media misinformation, young volunteers save online users from misleading COVID-19 information

Iftikhar Ahmed Chowdhury
Volunteer Zoom Meeting
UNICEF Bangladesh
01 September 2020

During a pandemic, rumours, half-truths and misinformation pervade the social media landscape, adding to the confusion and anxiety of an already pressured population struggling to cope with COVID-19.

 “When people are desperately seeking for authentic information to keep COVID-19 at bay from themselves, their families and dear ones, false information can deal a deadly blow to their already jittery confidence level and can lead them to take wrong and harmful health and personal safety decisions,” says Fariha Bushra.

Bushra, who is the Dhaka Division moderator of UNICEF Bangladesh Youth Volunteer Platform, is among the 16 volunteers from eight administrative divisions of the country, selected for leading the crusade against COVID-19 misinformation on social media.


Dismantling medical misinformation

“We mainly monitored the medical misinformation on social media platforms, especially Facebook.” Giving examples, she says, “we reported the publicity around unfounded cures for COVID-19 such as  homeopathic, ayurvedic and miracle traditional medicines. These were spread on social media through individual or group posts, Facebook cross-posts, shared content of commercial entities and online news portals.”

“Countering fake information on COVID-19 is a crucial duty of the volunteers." - Sultana Mehjabin Tushi 

“Countering fake information on COVID-19 is a crucial duty of the volunteers. Fariha and I led the 16-member Media Monitoring Task Force. We were trained online by the UNICEF Bangladesh social media team on identification of fake information from and reported back to the system every week,” says another volunteer Sultana Mehjabin Tushi, who works as moderator for the Barisal division.

Volunteer group
UNICEF Bangladesh
Members of the UNICEF Bangladesh Youth Volunteer Platform pose for a group photo before the start of the pandemic.

Another moderator and District Volunteer of Mymensing, Md Rafat Hasan, says the media monitoring team also attended a webinar on various facets of online misinformation organized by ICT Division of the government and the a2i (Access to Information) programme of the government.

“During this webinar, we were also briefed on how unscrupulous businesses capitalize on online misinformation to make quick profit”, he explains, saying that through this, the team understood that misinformation was purposefully spread for self-promotional reasons.        


Intense impact of the intervention

According to the volunteers, the flow of misinformation has decreased significantly since the start of the media monitoring programme in June 2020, while at present the misinformation mainly relates to speculations on human testing and arrival of successful COVID-19 vaccines.

“Over the span of the monitoring exercise done with the volunteers, the team has detected 85 major misinformation posts that garnered around 1.87 million interactions on social media,” affirms UNICEF Communication Officer Amiya Halder, who leads the social media team.  

Around one in five of all detected misinformation posts that are reported to Facebook are removed, she adds.

At the individual level, the youth volunteers also countered misinformation by speaking with their families and communities, while some of them used their own social media accounts to provide genuine information on COVID-19 using authentic online sources including UNICEF and WHO.