Analysis and Trends of Disinformation: A Sneak Peek Into 2021

As we begin a new year, fact-checkers at the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) would have wished the scourge and threat posed by false claims and narrative popularly referred to as fake news ended in the past year but that is not the case. It now seems obvious the fight is a never-ending one and therefore continues in the new year. Some of the issues which have crossed with us into the new year are insecurity in Nigeria, the criminal activities of terrorists, bandits, Coronavirus (COVID-19) prevention, vaccination against the virus among others.

Several claims relating to coronavirus cure, prevention and vaccines which took the centre stage in 2020 have been “carried over” to 2021.

In the last few weeks, CDD fact-checkers have spotted several claims on COVID-19 and the vaccination which were identified to be conspiracy theories.

The Centre has received close to a dozen claims which fall within our classification of vaccine disinformation or misinformation (conspiracy theories) for verification.

Some of such claims include one by a former Nigerian lawmaker, Senator Dino Melaye, who warned the general public and the government against the dangers of the new COVID-19 vaccine. Melaye in a video shared widely said that the government and the minister of health will be held responsible for any side effects arising from the use of the vaccine on citizens.

Other claims are: Four volunteers who got Pfizer’s vaccine developed Bell’s palsy,  Bill Gates Admits COVID Vaccine Changes DNA, Now Doctors Rebel!, with many anti-vaccination campaigners using a report from daily mail to mislead the public; COVID vaccine should be avoided at all cost: Message from Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. (WhatsApp message); Former Pfizer VP: ‘No need for vaccines,’ ‘the pandemic is effectively over’ published by Life Site News, a blog promoted by conspiracy theorists and anti-vaccination campaigners.

On December 12, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) published a report in which it quoted an Irish biomedical doctor and expert in immunology warning of the adverse effects of a COVID-19 vaccine.

This coronavirus disinformation revolved around COVID-19 vaccination and vaccines. Of note is a conspiracy “COVID vaccine should be avoided at all cost”. Claimed to be a message from Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.N This conspiracy claims the COVID vaccine will cause irreversible genetic damage to those who take the shot. This follows a known pattern of COVID-19 related conspiracies in the past- linking the claim to an important person in history and the lumping of unrelated themes within the same claim.

Importantly, the message claims asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 are not real cases citing Koch’s theory. Our findings show this claim is false.

Anti-Vaccination Posts On The Rise

A year before the coronavirus outbreak, the World Health Organization (WHO) had cited vaccine hesitancy as one of the top ten threats to global health. There is strong evidence from research that exposure to online anti-vaccine content leads to real-world rejection of vaccinations.

This category of misinformation is now a major threat to global efforts against the COVID-19 pandemic.

A report released by First Draft says much of today’s vaccine misinformation is driven by the process of “collective sensemaking,” whereby people anxiously make sense of a crisis by collectively filling in gaps in understanding, either with accurate information or false rumours, which are often far more available. This process continues as people make sense of the evolving science on the novel coronavirus.

The research identified dominant vaccine narratives on social media platforms in English, French and Spanish online communities which could erode public trust in a COVID-19 vaccine, and vaccines more generally. The research was conducted in response to the growing concern that dangerous narratives and conspiracy theories may result in increasing vaccine scepticism.

The research demonstrates the complexity of the vaccine information ecosystem, where a combination of voices and narratives have combined to create an environment of extreme uncertainty.

Findings from the research shows that two topics are driving a large proportion of the current global vaccine discourse, especially around a Covid-19 vaccine:

  1. Political and economic motives of actors and institutions involved in vaccine development
  2. The safety, efficacy and necessity concerns around vaccines.

Narratives challenging the safety of vaccines have been perennial players in the online vaccine debate. Yet the research shows that narratives related to mistrust in the intentions of institutions and key figures surrounding vaccines are now driving as much of the online conversation and vaccine scepticism as safety concerns. This issue is compounded by the complexities and vulnerabilities of this information ecosystem.

Conclusively, in the week under review, reports from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) shows that Nigeria has entered the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. This has also resulted in a second wave of infodemic regarding the pandemic and closely followed by vaccine conspiracy and disinformation.

Fact-checks produced by the CDD are:
Trending Image of Ministry of Long Life and Prosperity Bus in Imo is Fake

FACT-CHECK: Kano Hospital Not Shut Down Over COVID-19 Case

WhatsApp, Facebook Not Banned by Katsina State Government

FACT-CHECK: Is Buhari’s Claim on #EndSARS Protest Coverage by CNN, BBC True?

Did FG Direct Reopening of COVID-19 Isolation Centres?