The Truth About COVID-19

Disinformation continues to spread throughout both traditional media and digital media. As part of our work, Sayara International shows how crucial it is to engage journalists and influencers in efforts to counter disinformation.

In 2020 and 2021, Sayara led a program that aimed to counter malign narratives and increase the reach and resonance of truthful COVID-19-related messaging in the Sahel region.

Drawing on our expertise in social and behavior change communications (SBCC), we focused on journalism, media capability-building, influencer engagement, and strategic influence campaigning. We developed an innovative methodology and inclusive strategy based on an unprecedented alliance between scientific research and training structures for information professionals, mass media, and social media influencers.

Network of influencers and journalists

Our researchers analyzed audience exposure to malign state and non-state actor disinformation narratives related to COVID-19. We then identified and tracked those narratives and evaluated best practices in countering them.

The findings from the research enabled us to build, engage, and activate a broad network of local influencers and journalists. We also supported journalists and other media actors to identify and counter COVID-19-related propaganda and disinformation in local contexts.

Tailored campaign materials in Sudan

Our research revealed that Sudan was the most vulnerable to COVID-19 disinformation out of the eight countries studied (Burkina Faso, Northern Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Southern Niger, and Sudan).

By utilizing the insights and experiences of high-level experts, our team created tailored campaign materials and strategies for specific target audiences to better fight COVID-19 disinformation in the country.

Working closely with Yellow, a leading Sudanese communications company, we produced a radio clip and an animated video for TV. With these materials, we aimed to encourage Sudanese general audiences to find information about COVID-19 from official sources such as the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization, and the UN. We also aimed to encourage the public to fact-check before acting, believing advice, or sharing any information online.

Listen to the 30-second radio clip here [in Arabic].
Watch the 30-second TV clip here [in Arabic].

Workshop and collaborations in Sudan

On July 15, 2021, in collaboration with project partners and the Sudan Federal Ministry of Health, Sayara organized a one-day workshop in Khartoum. The workshop was titled “The Role of Media in Combating COVID-19 Disinformation” and featured key speeches from the highest level of government, international, and civil society representatives.

The event provided an opportunity to encourage attending journalists, influencers, and media professionals to disseminate campaign materials through their networks. It also initiated connections and future collaborations between the Ministry of Health and attendees to counter COVID-19 disinformation.

Read the workshop report here [in English].

Recommendations for continued efforts

Our research suggested ways to further build resilience against disinformation and increase the reach and resonance of truthful messaging on the pandemic. Recommendations include continued efforts to:

  • Train and support journalists, influencers, and other media actors.
  • Build public media literacy.
  • Adapt long-term, sustainable communication strategies to cultural and country-specific contexts.
  • Expand initiatives to explore the intersections of COVID-19 with local concerns.
  • Target young and rural audiences.
  • Recognize civil society actors and general audiences as influencers to engage with.
  • Work both online and in-person.

Find more information and resources at the Truth About COVID-19 hub here