Category: world

Our takeaways from a year-long challenge researching misinformation

In our Overview briefing, the grand finale in a sequence of analysis briefs about fact-checking and misinformation, we seize the important thing findings and summarise the takeaways in an easy-to-access guidelines. We additionally establish essential gaps, together with the necessity for extra fact-checking analysis from the International South to steer us on a path of evidence-informed fact-checking.

In 2019, Africa Test, Chequeado and Full Truth launched into a year-long analysis challenge to resolve many key questions we ask ourselves as fact-checkers. 

Throughout this era, we revealed 11 briefings, overlaying burning points for the fact-checking group, comparable to who believes and shares misinformation, what are the impacts and attainable options for well being misinformation, and what’s identified about conspiracy beliefs. 

Every bit was reviewed by consultants within the area, who suggested us on the newest educational developments in every area and what to bear in mind. We additionally reached related fact-checkers, educational establishments, media organisations, and took part in occasions to unfold the phrase about this work and the way it may inform our apply.

In our Overview Briefing we summarise what we’ve learnt from the publication of the 11 briefings and draw on six key findings:

  • Some audiences will likely be extra susceptible to misinformation than others, however a sure bias in direction of believing issues that are repeated, straightforward to course of, and aligned with our worldviews make us all susceptible to believing misinformation to some extent.
  • Truth-checks which establish what’s unsuitable, clarify why, and supply the proper reply, are the best at updating beliefs.  
  • For long-standing debates, corrections may be an uphill battle. There may be blended proof on the position of fact-checks in updating beliefs for some varieties of misinformation, comparable to vaccine misinformation and conspiracies, and little proof of the position of fact-checks in altering behaviours linked to those beliefs. For these claims, the best method is to forestall them from arising and spreading. 
  • How we current fact-checks issues. Regardless of the emergence of a large number of media codecs, proof means that articles which place a very powerful data on the prime, keep away from jargon and preserve distraction to a minimal, are the best approach of speaking data.
  • Media and data literacy programmes present promise. Interventions with younger and grownup contributors, together with long-term classroom coaching or simply brief trainings on-line, have been all discovered to enhance audiences’ potential to assume extra critically in regards to the data they encounter. We want extra analysis to find out how these assessed abilities translate into actual world behaviours. 
  • Truth-checking can influence politicians’ behaviour. We have to higher perceive the circumstances that make this handiest and the right way to make it a sturdy impact.

Normally, editors and fact-checkers are speeding to fulfill deadlines. That’s the reason we summarised the ends in a guidelines one-pager overlaying the totally different steps in fact-checking from manufacturing to publicity. We hope it to be a helpful useful resource for practitioners to have at hand of their every day work.

We distilled the primary classes for fact-checkers primarily based on all of the proof gathered, assessed and analysed over the interval in these 4 steps: 

Step 1: Manufacturing

Act quick, aiming at producing the fact-check early to scale back the chance of inaccurate claims being repeated. When looking for corrections, they’re considerably more practical once they come from the identical supply who produced the misinformation to start with.

Step 2: Content material

Clarify to your viewers why one thing is unsuitable to replace their data for the long-term. Phrase your headline as the reply you want your audiences to recollect, and be certain the place attainable to incorporate a transparent object, a declare, a transparent verdict on the declare’s accuracy, and a proof of the decision. It’s OK to be clear about what you don’t know,  however specify the place uncertainty lies.

Step 3: Format

A picture can draw consideration on social media, however solely embody photos that help your conclusions to make it simpler to recollect the conclusions of your reality examine. Nonetheless, textual content is greatest for conveying data. Specifically, with a clear format that doesn’t distract your audiences. Use brief, single column paragraphs.

Step 4: Publicity

Attempt to give attention to disinformation your audiences may need heard fairly than overamplifying unsubstantiated claims. At all times ask your self: is the declare well worth the consideration? Is there a hearth to place out, or are we including to the smoke?

We additionally encountered challenges and recognized analysis gaps and areas for future inquiry. 

Our analysis regarded on the educational literature from psychology, political science, training, well being and communication research –  a various group of disciplines which regularly didn’t cowl or weren’t even conscious of fact-checking as a apply. 

Due to this fact, we’d like extra research which might be tailor-made to the particularities of our work. Additionally, many research are performed in laboratories and underneath experimental circumstances, which ensures inside validity however it isn’t clear the way it applies to the actual life contexts through which misinformation spreads.

Truth-checking hole within the International South

Moreover, analysis tends to cowl disproportionally essentially the most developed international locations, specifically the US. Nonetheless, fact-checking has developed and expanded all all over the world. In line with the Duke Reporters’ Lab, by October 2020 there have been 304 initiatives in 84 international locations, together with 82 in Asia, 40 in South America, and 21 in Africa. One of many key general gaps recognized on this work, is due to this fact the shortage of analysis about fact-checking within the International South, together with the regional and cultural contexts, and the extent to which this calls for various responses from fact-checkers.

In the course of the challenge, we geared toward offering insights and proposals for practitioners. Our briefings, although, present that there’s room for enchancment relating to researching fact-checking. We take into account this just the start of an sincere dialog on what we do and the way we may be more practical in tackling the misinformation drawback. Truth-checkers, researchers and funders can advance these discussions and analysis agenda with a view to develop a extra evidence-based method to fact-checking.

© Copyright Africa Test 2020. Learn our republishing pointers. You might reproduce this piece or content material from it for the aim of reporting and/or discussing information and present occasions. That is topic to: Crediting Africa Test within the byline, holding all hyperlinks to the sources used and including this sentence on the finish of your publication: “This report was written by Africa Test, a non-partisan fact-checking organisation. View the unique piece on their web site”, with a hyperlink again to this web page.

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ANALYSIS: Can Eskom blame the ‘coldest winter in 10 years’ for load shedding?

Did the “coldest winter in 10 years” trigger electrical energy blackouts in South Africa? That’s the declare by André de Ruyter, CEO of public electrical energy utility Eskom.   

In a current interview on SAfm’s Market Replace, host Nompu Siziba requested De Ruyter why, when financial exercise was restricted by the Covid-19 lockdown, the nation’s lights went out.  

“South Africa skilled the coldest winter in 10 years, and through these chilly snaps demand exceeded what we had anticipated, even earlier than lockdown started,” he responded.

“So, whereas total financial exercise was decrease, the peaks that we skilled due to excessive demand as a result of chilly climate definitely exceeded expectations and put further pressure on our system. And that regrettably led to load shedding.” 

However did South Africa actually have its “coldest winter in 10 years”?

Load shedding in 2020

Eskom says it makes use of load shedding – scheduled electrical energy blackouts – to “stop the collapse of the ability system country-wide”.

“When energy is inadequate, Eskom can thus both enhance provide or cut back demand to deliver the system again into stability,” it explains. “By switching off components of the community in a deliberate and managed method, the system stays secure all through the day, and the impression is unfold over a wider base of consumers.”

The EskomSePush telephone app alerts customers to scheduled blackouts in South Africa, and has a file of every day energy outages since 2015. 

It reveals there have been 29 days of load shedding within the first three months of 2020. There was no load shedding in April, Could and June. The facility went out once more in July, for seven days. In August there have been 5 days of load shedding, and one other six in September. There was no load shedding in October. 

No response from Eskom

Dr Liesl Dyson, a meteorologist within the College of Pretoria’s division of geography, geoinformatics and meteorology, and Dr Christien Engelbrecht, a senior researcher on the South African Climate Service, helped Africa Examine fact-check De Ruyter’s declare.  

“We aren’t conscious what knowledge Eskom’s CEO used when stating that South African skilled the coldest winter in 10 years,” they wrote in a report. “One ought to be aware that Eskom has their very own community of statement stations and it could be that this knowledge was analysed.”

Africa Examine emailed Eskom’s media desk to ask for the supply of De Ruyter’s knowledge, and the way it was calculated. We additionally phoned all three of the numbers offered to the media. Now we have not but obtained any response. (Observe: We’ll replace this report ought to we achieve this.

Under regular temperatures in August

Dyson and Engelbrecht consulted international unified temperature knowledge from the Local weather Prediction Centre. It is a subdivision of the Nationwide Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a scientific company inside america Division of Commerce that focuses on the circumstances of the oceans and environment.

Utilizing this knowledge they calculated the typical most and minimal month-to-month temperatures within the south western Cape, south coast, Northern Cape and highveld in 2020. 

These have been in comparison with the latest “local weather normals” for the area, for 1981 to 2010. It is a calculation of the “regular temperatures” anticipated in South Africa every month primarily based on 30 years of information. 

Most temp ‘beneath regular’ in August

Dyson and Engelbrecht discovered that “most temperatures over South Africa have been usually above regular” for Could to July. Nevertheless, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo recorded beneath regular most temperatures in June and July. 

In August most temperatures have been beneath regular within the western and central inside of the nation. South Africa’s excessive east skilled beneath regular temperatures in September.

Winter months ‘beneath regular’ temperature

Minimal temperatures have been discovered to be “usually beneath regular” for all winter months. 

“In August all the nation skilled beneath regular minimal temperatures and within the Free State and Jap Cape temperatures have been as a lot as 5 levels Celsius beneath regular,” Dyson and Engelbrecht wrote. 

“As minimal temperatures often happen near dawn, the beneath regular temperatures throughout this time could very conceivably [have] resulted in elevated electrical energy demand through the morning peak intervals.

“Though the temperatures have been usually beneath regular in these 4 areas in August, it is just within the Northern Cape the place minimal temperatures in August have been the bottom up to now 10 years.” 

Winter not coldest in 10 years

However the temperature knowledge doesn’t present that the nation had the “coldest winter in 10 years”, as De Ruyter claimed. Dyson and Engelbrecht additionally analysed the three months of winter (June, July and August) as one unit. 

“[D]uring the winter interval there have been chilly occasions, which resulted in beneath regular temperatures for shorter intervals. On the whole for the three months of winter temperatures remained regular to above regular.”

Dyson and Engelbrecht mentioned the findings of their evaluation ought to be interpreted cautiously as totally different timeframes and geographical areas of research may affect the outcomes. 

“A extra thorough evaluation is required to attract decisive conclusions.”

‘Blaming the climate is like blaming God’

Chris Yelland, an engineer and analyst at vitality consulting agency EE Enterprise Intelligence in Johannesburg, informed Africa Examine there was a hyperlink between chilly climate and a rise in vitality demand in winter. However he mentioned this occurs everywhere in the world.

“[There is] nothing uncommon a couple of chilly snap. Now we have chilly climate yearly. When you may have a chilly snap, one doesn’t count on the system to fall over. The entire energy system can’t be dependent simply on the climate,” mentioned Yelland. “It’s simply not adequate. It’s disingenuous. Blaming the climate is like blaming God.”

Prof Anton Eberhard from the College of Cape City’s Graduate College of Enterprise mentioned: “The primary reason behind the load shedding is the deterioration within the efficiency of Eskom’s energy technology plant and the lateness in procuring new impartial energy producers.

“The chilly winter interval definitely will increase electrical energy demand and locations further pressure on the system however South Africa ought to have had adequate analysis capability to deal with these demand peaks.”

Elsabé Brits is a contract science and medical reporter from South Africa. Observe her at @elsabebrits.

© Copyright Africa Examine 2020. Learn our republishing pointers. You could reproduce this piece or content material from it for the aim of reporting and/or discussing information and present occasions. That is topic to: Crediting Africa Examine within the byline, conserving all hyperlinks to the sources used and including this sentence on the finish of your publication: “This report was written by Africa Examine, a non-partisan fact-checking organisation. View the unique piece on their web site”, with a hyperlink again to this web page.

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ANALYSIS: Truth-checking claims about service supply in South Africa since 1994

With South African municipal elections set to happen in 2021, we will anticipate quite a lot of service supply comparisons. They might not all add up.

Did you turn on a light-weight at present? Pour your self a glass of water? Flush the bathroom? Entry to electrical energy, water and sanitation are sometimes key measures when assessing progress in a rustic. 

In South Africa there’s a frequent yr of reference: 1994. It marked the nation’s first democratic election. Politicians have a behavior of measuring progress – or lack thereof – from this date.

Through the years, Africa Test has fact-checked quite a few claims about entry to providers between 1994 and the current day. Not too long ago an Africa Test reader requested us to fact-check the declare that fewer individuals in South Africa have entry to “clear water” in 2020 than in 1994.

To test this you want entry to dependable information. However it’s tougher to return by than you may suppose. 

Information from early Nineties restricted in quantity and use 

“Earlier than 1994, most surveys, together with the census, didn’t embrace Africans in full and didn’t weight samples for them appropriately,” Neva Makgetla, senior economist on the Commerce and Industrial Coverage Methods analysis institute in Pretoria, advised Africa Test. 

Surveys additionally excluded the so-called unbiased homelands – areas designated for specific ethnic teams – the place a big share of the African inhabitants lived. And due to the commerce and monetary sanctions imposed by different nations in response to apartheid, financial information was unreliable, Makgetla mentioned. With out a full census, non-public surveys additionally confronted points. 

“It took some time earlier than Statistics South Africa might develop methods to completely rely the African inhabitants and develop higher weights for surveys,” Makgetla mentioned. She added that many questions requested in these surveys have been poorly designed. 

“Because of this, it’s just about unimaginable to check demographic and socio-economic information from 1994 with any later findings.”

Entry to water in 1994 vs 2018

Let’s return to the reader request to fact-check the declare that the quantity of people that had entry to scrub water was decrease in 2020 than in 1994. It appeared straight-forward sufficient. We simply wanted to search out the related figures for 1994 and 2018, the most recent yr for which information is out there. 

The latest figures are simple to search out. In accordance with Statistics South Africa’s, or Stats SA’s, 2018 common family survey, 89% of households had entry to piped or faucet water. This included entry of their dwellings, on web site or off web site. 

For comparability you may attain for Stats SA’s October 1995 Family Survey, which discovered that 78.5% of households had entry to “clear water”. However Niël Roux, the company’s supervisor of service supply statistics, has beforehand defined that the survey was “hamstrung by a collection of methodological and sensible points”. The weighting problem, whereas much less extreme within the 1996 census, was an enormous downside with the October Family Survey. This makes it tough to check its outcomes with newer statistics, Makgetla mentioned.

A smaller nationally consultant survey, carried out by the Southern Africa Labour Improvement Analysis Unit (SALDRU) in late 1993 and early 1994, discovered that 76.4% of households had entry to piped water. This referred to municipal water and its high quality would fluctuate with location, Lynn Woolfrey, supervisor of the DataFirst analysis unit on the College of Cape City, advised Africa Test. 

The out there information makes it tough to attract any clear conclusions about adjustments in entry to scrub or piped water since 1994. The state of affairs is simply barely clearer on the subject of electrical energy. 

Understating entry in 1994

In 2019, president Cyril Ramaphosa claimed that solely 36% of the inhabitants had entry to electrical energy in 1994 and that the determine had since grown to 80%. He was incorrect. 

Entry to electrical energy is measured in a variety of other ways. It might contain counting what number of homes are linked to the grid. However it might, and some have argued that it ought to, additionally embrace what number of households are capable of afford electrical energy and what number of are in a position to make use of the complete vary of electrical energy providers, for instance lighting, cooking and heating. 

In accordance with Stats SA, their “earliest credible information” on electrical energy was from the 1996 census, given the issues with the company’s October 1995 survey highlighted above. 

The census discovered that in 1996 58% of households used electrical energy for lighting. Nearly 48% used electrical energy for cooking whereas 46.5% used it for heating. The 1993 survey by SALDRU estimated that 54% of households had entry to electrical energy from the grid. 

Each information units point out entry to electrical energy in 1994 sat at above 50%. By understating entry in 1994, Ramaphosa overstated the federal government’s progress in rising entry to electrical energy. 

Accuracy in public debate

With South African municipal elections set to happen in 2021, we will anticipate extra of those sorts of comparisons. When campaigning, politicians want to pay attention to the out there information sources and their limitations. 

We’ve put collectively this factsheet, detailing every thing we do (and don’t) find out about service supply in 1994, to make sure as clear an image as potential. Additionally it is a useful resource for voters who want to fact-check election claims. 


© Copyright Africa Test 2020. Learn our republishing tips. Chances are you’ll reproduce this piece or content material from it for the aim of reporting and/or discussing information and present occasions. That is topic to: Crediting Africa Test within the byline, holding all hyperlinks to the sources used and including this sentence on the finish of your publication: “This report was written by Africa Test, a non-partisan fact-checking organisation. View the unique piece on their web site”, with a hyperlink again to this web page.

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COMMENT: We’d like science journalists not press launch cheerleaders

There are few matters that individuals know to not point out in my presence. Telling me that science communication and science journalism are the identical factor is considered one of them. 

In South Africa, science communication has successfully cannibalised science journalism – eradicating a significant safety towards organisations and folks utilizing unhealthy or false science to serve their very own pursuits. Now we have now information to show it.

In accordance with a current examine, when you’re studying a information article a couple of native scientific breakthrough in a South African media publication, there’s a great likelihood it’s truly a repackaged – or quoted verbatim – college press launch.

This apply, generally known as “churnalism”, threatens to erode folks’s belief in science and permits for the politicisation of scientific findings, the researchers warn.

Churnalism or ‘copy and paste’ journalism

Researchers at Stellenbosch College in contrast 40 print and on-line science tales, printed over a five-month interval, with the college press releases from which they originated. They seemed to see how related the article content material was to the press launch and whether or not “copy and paste” articles referenced the establishment because the writer of the content material. Additionally they investigated if the tales had been overrated or exaggerated.

“We discovered that the majority press releases are re-published verbatim with minimal journalistic enter and no crediting of the unique supply,” the authors write of their paper, printed within the South African Journal for Communication Concept and Analysis

Half of the media articles had been greater than 50% just like the unique press launch, whereas greater than two-thirds didn’t credit score the supply of their info. And just one out of the 40 articles had a important method to the story. The researchers stated “hype”, the place writers overstate or exaggerate the analysis findings, was current in a 3rd of media articles. 

Forty articles is a small pattern. The authors additionally famous that they seemed solely at articles in print media publications with the best circulation numbers, in no way accessible articles. Their analysis additionally solely included press releases from South Africa’s 4 research-intensive universities, not different establishments or corporations.

How did we get right here?

Journalism has had a troublesome few many years. The appearance of quick-turnaround on-line journalism and flight of advertisers to the likes of Fb has damaged the standard journalism income mannequin

As newsrooms downsize, specialist reporters have usually been among the many first casualties. Once I was retrenched from my place as science editor at a nationwide weekly newspaper in 2015, I used to be instructed that science protection was a “good to have”. Journalists who’ve stored their jobs have to provide a larger variety of articles to maintain up with the insatiable urge for food for brand spanking new tales. 

In accordance with the 2018 State of the Newsroom report, printed by Wits Journalism, the South African journalist workforce has halved from about 10,000 a decade in the past. A thousand journalists misplaced their jobs in 2012/13 alone.

From journalism to press releases

Many of those former journalists have discovered employment in college press places of work. They create content material that they know will attraction to resource-strapped media retailers, in accordance with the Stellenbosch College paper.

One of many main issues with churnalism is that “the important, investigative perform of journalism is misplaced”, the authors say. “When journalists write solely affirmative and celebratory tales about science, they develop into cheerleaders for science, moderately than fulfilling the important function of watchdogs who guard public curiosity.”

This ends in biased protection, as college press releases will not be impartial and look to solid the establishment and its researchers in a constructive mild. Additionally, the “uncritical re-hashing of press releases may create alternatives for the politicisation of science, in different phrases the slanting or framing of science information to assist a particular institutional or political agenda”, they write.

Persons are more and more distrustful of science, not sure of who to consider on points starting from local weather change to sporting masks within the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Science communication and hype are significantly culpable on this.

“The cumulative impact of on a regular basis misreporting can confuse and erode public belief in science and drugs, with detrimental penalties,” write the authors of a 2014 paper that seemed on the hyperlink between exaggeration in science information tales and press releases. By evaluating 462 press releases, the unique analysis papers, and 668 information tales, they discovered that exaggeration in press releases usually discovered its approach into journalistic tales.

The way in which ahead

Gone are the times when main publications had science reporters on employees. However that doesn’t imply the general public has to lose out on good high quality science journalism. 

Basic reporters ought to be inspired to jot down about science, with targeted help from media organisations such because the South African Science Journalists Affiliation or the South African Nationwide Editors Discussion board. Africa Test has printed a information for journalists to assist them report on scientific tales.

The opposite choice is to show to freelancers. No mainstream publication in South Africa may afford to have a physics specialist on employees, ready within the wings for the second there’s breaking information such because the discovery of the Higgs boson (“God particle”) or proof of gravitational waves

There are, nevertheless, freelancers who specialize in these areas and supply their expertise to publications. That is widespread in mature media landscapes all over the world, however it hinges on publications being ready to pay freelancers what they’re price – one thing that will not be at the moment the case in South Africa. 

Poor charges are main to a different pervasive drawback: the credibility problem. So as to hustle a residing, freelancers have begun to jot down journalistic articles and press releases on the identical matter.  Generally they even write concerning the establishments from which they settle for cash. 

Step one within the battle of this credibility problem is to entrench the concept science communication will not be the identical as journalism. 

Science communication is a public relations train: it casts an establishment in a constructive mild. The organisation has employed folks to make them look good in a reader’s eyes. 

Science journalism exists to serve the reader. It ought to equip them with info to know the world of science and allow them to make up their very own thoughts.

Learn Africa Test’s information to scientific reporting right here

Sarah Wild is a science journalist and writer. She studied physics, electronics, and English literature at Rhodes College in an effort to make herself unemployable. It didn’t work so she learn for an MSc in bioethics and well being legislation (Wits College), with a particular concentrate on race science and the philosophy of science. Her work has appeared in Nature, Quartz, and Scientific American.


© Copyright Africa Test 2020. Learn our republishing tips. You could reproduce this piece or content material from it for the aim of reporting and/or discussing information and present occasions. That is topic to: Crediting Africa Test within the byline, protecting all hyperlinks to the sources used and including this sentence on the finish of your publication: “This report was written by Africa Test, a non-partisan fact-checking organisation. View the unique piece on their web site”, with a hyperlink again to this web page.

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ANALYSIS: A lot ado concerning the fallacious numbers – decoding Kenya’s teen being pregnant ‘surge’

With colleges in Kenya closed till 2021, mother and father could be forgiven for being apprehensive following an avalanche of native experiences a couple of “spike” in teenage pregnancies.

To not be left behind, worldwide media reported “a surge” and claimed the nation “has for lengthy grappled with excessive teenage being pregnant charges”.  

The ensuing fierce debate a couple of “disaster” noticed the president and his ministers wade in. The Nationwide Crime Analysis Centre, a state company, is now investigating the difficulty.

However Africa Test discovered these claims are severely undermined by weak information.

Apparently, regardless of a marketing campaign in opposition to teenage being pregnant having been launched earlier within the yr, the controversy ignited after a June 2020 on-line information story reported that 4,000 schoolgirls had develop into pregnant since March within the jap Kenya county of Machakos. Kenyan colleges have been closed since March to stem the unfold of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The determine was attributed to the county youngsters’s officer commenting on the Worldwide Day of the African Little one. Africa Test has requested the official to make clear their remarks and we’ll replace this text after we obtain a response.

Well being ministry claims numbers ‘exaggerated, outrageous’

Kenya’s well being ministry, nonetheless, refuted the figures. The numbers have been “exaggerated, outrageous and don’t mirror the precise statistics”, it mentioned, estimating the right variety of pregnant youngsters as “a 3rd” of the instances reported within the media. 

The ministry’s chief administrative secretary mentioned the Machakos information had been “inaccurately extrapolated”. The 4,000 determine did “not characterize the numerical rely of particular person youngsters presenting to the clinic” with new pregnancies, mentioned Dr Mercy Mwangangi. As a substitute it was of “a number of visits” of pregnant women to hospitals, Alfred Mutua, the governor of Machakos county, mentioned.

The ministry mentioned: “This not at all means that we would not have an issue in our arms. As a matter of reality, teenage being pregnant stays a world problem, and Kenya is not any exception.”

In line with Kenya’s 2019 inhabitants census, there have been 153,974 women aged 10 to 19 in Machakos county, which had a inhabitants of 1.4 million. Nationally, some 5.7 million women have been of this age. 

The United Nations in flip claimed 152,000 women in Kenya turned pregnant within the three months because the begin of the nationwide lockdown. The UN reported this was “a 40% enhance within the month-to-month common”.

Why is the information that’s key to the controversy so complicated? We went in quest of solutions. 

Machakos figures right, however don’t present enhance

The info about teenage pregnancies in Machakos was drawn from the Kenya well being data system. This technique will get information from well being amenities within the nation’s 47 counties and works on an open-source software program platform utilized in 54 nations.  Entry to the database is set by the well being ministry.

This technique is the “most important and most common supply of routine well being information for the nation and it’s utilized in all counties,” Dr Bernard Onyango instructed Africa Test. He’s a senior analyst with coverage assume tank African Institute for Improvement Coverage and has expertise in demographic and well being surveillance analysis. 

Onyango confirmed the figures for Machakos county have been as reported within the media. However the information, which covers ages 10 to 19, additionally confirmed there wasn’t a nationwide enhance in teenage pregnancies within the first 5 months of 2020 when in comparison with 2019. Kenyan regulation defines a toddler as anybody below 18.

For Machakos, there was really a lower through the first 5 months of the yr, from 4,710 in 2019 to the reported 3,966 in 2020. Nationally teenage pregnancies additionally fell, from 175,000 in 2019 to 151,000 in 2020.  That is near the 2020 determine reported by the UN, although it doesn’t again up the company’s declare that it represents “a 40% enhance within the month-to-month common”.

The numbers are described as youngsters “presenting with being pregnant”, Onyango mentioned. “This implies a pregnant individual went to a well being facility and the ability recorded the being pregnant.”

Underneath-reporting seemingly

There’s a important caveat with these numbers, specialists instructed Africa Test.

“The info doesn’t seize all pregnancies as a result of not all folks go to well being amenities. Second, it isn’t clear whether or not the women have been there for his or her first visits or for subsequent visits,” mentioned Onyango.

Dr Yohannes Wado specialises in inhabitants and reproductive well being on the African Inhabitants and Well being Analysis Heart in Nairobi. He flagged the identical considerations.

“The info from the well being data system solely captures details about individuals who go to well being amenities or instances which might be reported. As a result of not all people goes to well being amenities, the information could also be incomplete or … there could also be the potential for overcounting when somebody makes a number of visits for a similar service,” Wado mentioned.

The well being ministry mentioned that due to the excessive dangers related to teen pregnancies, teen moms are suggested “and often make” a number of visits to well being clinics. 

However the ministry additionally argued that as a result of teenage moms tended to go to well being amenities when their being pregnant was superior, it was unlikely that the closure of colleges had led to any rise in reported pregnancies.

What results in information deficiencies?

Samuel Cheburet is head of the civil registration and very important statistics unit on the ministry. He mentioned that how the information was collected led to uncertainty.

The info assortment device “ought to seize solely a brand new adolescent being pregnant” but it surely didn’t, leading to double counts, he instructed Africa Test in an e mail. 

Different authorities officers, just like the minister for social companies Simon Chelugui, have additionally reportedly mentioned that the dearth of coherent information is a priority.

What does the newest and dependable information present?

For the newest dependable information on teenage pregnancies it’s a must to return six years.

The Kenya Demographic and Well being Survey 2014 targeted on teenage women aged 15 to 19 years. Childbearing begins early in Kenya, the survey mentioned, with nearly 1 / 4 of girls giving delivery by age 18 and practically half by age 20. 

Revealed in December 2015, it discovered that 18%, or about one in each 5, of this age group was pregnant or had had a toddler. This proportion had not modified because the earlier survey was carried out in 2008/09. This explicit statistic has additionally been extensively cited within the media. 

The survey added that “the share of girls who’ve begun childbearing will increase quickly with age, from about 3% amongst these age 15 to 40% amongst these age 19”.

Solely one other demographic and well being survey can have newer data, Zachary Mwangi, the director normal of Kenya’s nationwide statistics workplace, instructed Africa Test. He confirmed the company didn’t have more moderen information.

Since 1989, the demographic and well being survey has been carried out at intervals of between 4 and 6 years. The subsequent version is deliberate for the present monetary yr 2020/21, Mwangi mentioned.

How does Kenya evaluate internationally?

World Financial institution information, citing demographic survey information for teenage moms aged 15-19, offers an analogous determine of 19% for Kenya. The info is incomplete, however a verify reveals there are a selection of different nations with a lot greater shares. 

Of the nations with information from 2014, these embrace Mozambique (46%), Sierra Leone (36%) Madagascar (39%), Mali, Chad (each 36%), Angola (35%), Liberia (34%) Bangladesh (31%), DR Congo (27%) and Burkina Faso (25%).

Adolescents worry hospital visits

The World Well being Group, or WHO, recommends that pregnant ladies go to a hospital at the least eight occasions throughout a being pregnant to cut back perinatal mortality. Earlier than 2016 the well being company really useful 4 visits.
The Kenya demographic and well being survey 2014 confirmed that solely 4% of girls aged 15 to 49 failed to go to an antenatal clinic even as soon as. That is the newest information on Kenya, Dr Bernard Onyango, a researcher with the African Institute for Improvement Coverage, instructed Africa Test.
First-time pregnant teenagers might worry punishment and stigma if their households, mates or colleges study of their being pregnant, Onyango mentioned. They might additionally really feel judged by different ladies on the clinic or by well being service suppliers, he added.
These from poor backgrounds may worry they can not afford the price of the companies or of travelling to a far-away clinic. 

Older teenagers nonetheless in danger from being pregnant

The out there information consists of these aged 18 and 19, who’re legally adults in Kenya. Why is there concern about pregnancies at this age?

“These below 20 usually tend to have untimely deliveries and different issues for causes together with an underdeveloped pelvis and dietary deficiencies,” Onyango instructed Africa Test. 

“The chance is probably not as excessive in comparison with youthful ages, however it’s nonetheless a priority.”

Onyango additionally cited the socio-economic penalties. “For instance, a being pregnant for an 18- or 19-year-old lady might curtail her schooling, in comparison with a boy the identical  age.

This results in gender inequalities at ranges of upper schooling and ramifications for future earnings, he mentioned. The World Financial institution provides that infants of adolescent moms are additionally extra prone to have low delivery weight, which may have a long-term affect on their well being and growth. 

To ensure that public debate to be nicely knowledgeable and for coverage interventions on such an essential challenge to be efficient, it’s central that the difficulty of incoherent and poor high quality information is addressed. 

– Extra reporting by Alphonce Shiundu

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ANALYSIS: No, that is not Duduzane Zuma’s Twitter account. Right here’s why

A Twitter account impersonating former South African president Jacob Zuma’s son, Duduzane Zuma, usually dupes folks into believing it’s the 36-year-old businessman’s official account.

Nevertheless, proof gathered utilizing on-line instruments factors on the contrary. The @Duduzane__Zuma account was initially referred to as “Bantukazi Biko”, and had ties to the Black First Land First (BLF) political occasion shortly after it was created. The account solely rebranded to the @Duduzane__Zuma persona someday between 22 August 2017 and 24 February 2018.

The truth that each Duduzane’s twin sister and Jacob Zuma himself have mentioned that the account is doubtful hasn’t prevented it attracting over 113 ,000 followers.

Many customers steadily mistake the account as Duduzane’s official Twitter account. However, with a little bit of Twitter sleuthing, it’s clear that the account began out with hyperlinks to the pro-Zuma BLF. There may be additionally proof of curious interactions with notorious sock-puppet accounts: the Guptabots.

Smoke and mirrors

The account presents itself as that of Duduzane Zuma, the son of former president Jacob Zuma. He was additionally a detailed enterprise affiliate of the now “expatriated” Gupta household, three brothers who used their political proximity to the Zumas to reap rewards within the type of state contracts. The Saxonwold compound of brothers Atul, Ajay and Tony had been raided the identical day that former president Jacob Zuma introduced his resignation, however by then the Guptas had already skipped the nation.

The profile image and a Twitter bio entry gives the look that it’s Duduzane’s official account. Coupled with the way in which the account frames its tweets, this impression is definitely entrenched.

For instance, the account steadily refers to Jacob Zuma as “my father” and tweets pictures and movies that make it seem as if the account is de facto run by Duduzane himself.

A better inspection reveals that, regardless of these efforts, Duduzane is probably going not the individual behind the account. A reverse picture search reveals that the account’s profile and banner photos might be simply discovered and copied on-line. Though the account tweets “authentic” content material that appears to originate from Duduzane, digging a bit deeper reveals that is smoke and mirrors. 

A current instance of that is the video congratulating (now suspended) Zandile Gumede after she was sworn in as a provincial member of parliament in KwaZulu-Natal. A extensively circulated video of Duduzane congratulating Gumede was tweeted by @Duduzane__Zuma at 14:22 on 22 August 2020. However on the time it was posted, the video had been circulating on social media for nearly 24 hours.

Below the hood

Our first step was to take a peek below the hood of the @Duduzane__Zuma account and decide two issues: when the account was created and what consumer ID was assigned to it. 

The date a consumer joined Twitter might be decided simply by trying on the “be part of date” of the consumer’s profile, utilizing the Twitter API or one among a number of free on-line instruments. On this case, we will see the account was created in August 2016, and the Twitonomy software helps us nail down the precise day: 31 August 2016.

Subsequent we went searching for the account’s consumer ID. It is a distinctive identification quantity that Twitter assigns to every account when it’s created. The consumer ID is the first manner Twitter identifies how completely different accounts work together. The quantity stays the identical even when a consumer modifications their profile image, show identify or Twitter deal with. This ensures historic dialog threads are saved intact, even when everybody modifications their consumer handles.

The consumer ID isn’t seen straight on a profile. It may be discovered utilizing on-line instruments, the Twitter API and even the web page supply code itself by means of your browser.

This consumer ID is important in establishing whether or not a number of accounts was the identical. It’s a helpful option to verify whether or not an account has ever modified its consumer deal with. Within the case of the @Duduzane__Zuma account, the consumer ID is 771031898592280576.


Now that we’ve got the be part of date and consumer ID, we will zoom again to the account’s first tweets. Since we all know the account’s be part of date, we will use Twitter’s superior search choice to point out us solely tweets from the primary week or month after the account was created. These typically give away very important details about an account, particularly if we suspect that show names or consumer handles had been modified. Importantly, if an account was replied to or talked about in a tweet by others, it will possibly present any of the previous usernames utilized by the account. 

In @Duduzane__Zuma’s case, the primary 4 tweets all talked about @blackfirstlandfirst, the now-suspended account previously belonging to the political occasion led by Andile Mngxitama. These early mentions and follows of BLF-linked accounts change into extra essential later.

The BLF had been staunch supporters of the Guptas, to the extent that they picketed and defaced the home of former Tiso Blackstar editor-at-large Peter Bruce’s home for reporting critically on the household. The occasion has additionally steadily appeared at courtroom hearings involving the Zumas, comparable to Duduzane’s culpable murder trial in mid-2018. 

We will additionally see who the account adopted early on, since Twitter shows accounts adopted by a consumer within the order by which they had been adopted. We will see from @Duduzane__Zuma’s following checklist that a few of the very first accounts it adopted had been additionally linked to the BLF. 

This gives a reasonably clear indication that, in its early days, the account had a definite connection or was at the very least excited about BLF.

Discovering names

From the identical early tweets, we will determine a number of replies to @Duduzane__Zuma that steadily point out one other mysterious account. Replies to @Duduzane__Zuma despatched from @Vodacom, in addition to a number of different customers, all characteristic a distinct account within the “replying to” discipline.

That is the primary trace of @Duduzane__Zuma’s authentic username: @BlackSista1. The previous username crops up due to how Twitter makes use of the consumer ID to hyperlink these conversations and replies. As a result of the username has since modified, it generally reveals the previous consumer deal with as an alternative of the brand new one.

Utilizing Twitter’s Superior Search characteristic once more, we this time appeared for tweets mentioning @BlackSista1 across the identical time. It confirmed that in this time the account was steadily talked about in tweets alongside different BLF Twitter accounts, a few of which had been authored by accounts recognized because the so-called “Guptabots”.

It additionally presents a paradox: though @Duduzane__Zuma and @BlackSista1 was the identical account, a distinct @BlackSista1 account is at present lively on Twitter. We’ll clarify why under.


However first, to verify that @Duduzane__Zuma and @BlackSista1 was the identical account, we’d like proof that their inner consumer IDs match. To do that, we relied on internet archiving instruments to search out previous copies of the Twitter accounts as they appeared manner again in 2016. and are two web sites that consistently trawl the web to save lots of “snapshots” of webpages as they seem at the moment. If an account is well-liked, or immediately goes viral, there’s a probability it might have been archived by one among these websites. Google may also generally present the same cached model of a webpage, however is much more risky and fewer dependable.

Utilizing both of those archiving websites is simple: merely enter the web site URL you’d wish to examine for archived variations, and it’ll give you a listing of dates on which snapshots for that URL had been taken. 

Checking for archived tweets by @BlackSista1 throughout this precedent days reveals that we’re in luck: a number of tweets by @Blacksista1 had been archived from the account’s early days.

The one catch right here was that these archived pages had been captured in JSON format, which is a knowledge format typically seen when working with Twitter’s API. That is nonetheless invaluable data, simply introduced in a a lot much less consumer pleasant format than the standard Twitter interface.

This offered the affirmation we required: the consumer ID of @BlackSista1 on 1 July 2017 matched the consumer ID of the @Duduzane__Zuma account seen at this time. It additionally gives us with the account’s authentic show identify, “Bantukazi Biko”. 


However how can an account referred to as @BlackSista1 at present exist concurrently @Duduzane__Zuma?

These are literally two separate Twitter accounts (as evidenced by the separate consumer IDs) that each used the identical Twitter consumer deal with however at completely different instances. After the unique @BlackSista1 account modified its username to @Duduzane__Zuma, the @BlackSista1 consumer deal with turned out there once more.When the present @BlackSista1 account was created on 16 October 2018, the deal with was out there to be used.


So the place do the Guptabots slot in? The Guptabots had been scores of misleading accounts first seen in mid-2016 that pretended to be South Africans. In actuality, these accounts had been principally being coordinated from India. Such accounts, often called “sockpuppets”, use misleading practices to faux they’re somebody, or one thing, they aren’t. 

The Guptabots attacked customers essential of the Gupta household, and amplified the Gupta-linked disinformation web sites comparable to and Voetsekblog that had been created to distract from the Gupta household’s doubtful status. Additionally they confirmed vital help for the BLF and its chief, Andile Mngxitama.

These web sites and sockpuppet accounts went silent on 31 December 2017, nearly as if somebody flicked a swap.

When taking a look at @Duduzane__Zuma’s previous tweets one among them stood out: it acquired 21 retweets, however curiously the tweet attracted no likes in any respect.

A evaluate of those 21 retweets makes it clear why: the majority of the retweets had been by accounts recognized as Guptabots, lots of them coming from the very first few accounts recognized in early November 2016.



The @Duduzane__Zuma Twitter account would possibly seem like that of former president Jacob Zuma’s son, however open supply proof factors on the contrary. 

The account was first created below the identify “Bantukazi Biko” in August 2016 and seems to have interacted with BLF accounts and networks. It was repurposed to imagine the individual of Duduzane round early 2018. 

With no parody labels, a large following and a transparent political slant, the account’s tweets ought to be learn with circumspection.   

Jean le Roux is a former forensic investigator, investigative journalist and disinformation researcher with the Digital Forensic Analysis Lab. 


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ANALYSIS: How Facebook scammers are preying on desperate South African job seekers to make money

Evans Kalunga lives in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. A boilermaker by qualification, he is currently unemployed but earns a living doing small jobs.

Always on the lookout for permanent work, a job advert on Facebook for general workers at South African energy company Sasol seemed timely. But oddly, the post on the aptly named “Jobs Opportunities” page required those interested in applying to comment on it.

Kalunga posted a comment, and waited hopefully. That was the last he would hear of it, even though the page remained active. 

“There was no response, they have not come back to me. I can just see other people commenting also,” he told us.

What he didn’t know was that the job advert was part of an elaborate online scam targeting South Africa’s unemployed, who according to Stats SA’s most recent data numbered nearly 6.7 million in December 2019. 

That number could rise as the economy flies into Covid-19-induced turbulence, setting up even more jobseekers for pain at the hands of fraudsters. 

False job adverts common but easy to spot

Facebook has changed how we socialise online, but is unfortunately also a home for bad information, which ranges from bogus health cures and everyday hoaxes to rumoured deaths. And then there are the job scams, which from our experience are some of the most resilient, targeting both the most vulnerable and the more guarded.

The platform is littered with pages advertising vacancies that do not exist. One repeat offender has consistently advertised nonexistent jobs, including at the South African Social Security Agency, clothing retailer Mr Price and private hospital network Netcare

Often, these false adverts are easy to spot. They tend to be badly written and the links don’t take you to an official website. But many times, it is not as straightforward to pick them out. 

The “Jobs Opportunities” page that raised Kalunga’s hopes previously masqueraded as “Employment Opportunities” before a rebrand. Created in November 2018, it has 50,000 followers. Each job advert it posts attracts hundreds of comments from people looking for work. For example, the advert for general workers at Sasol had more than 1,000 comments.

But the posts don’t directly ask for an application fee – a sure red flag we’ve seen many times elsewhere. So what then is the end game? 

‘We’ll help if you share this post in 10 groups’

To understand this, a simple overview of the “application” process helps.

The Sasol advert, for example, asks Facebook users to “pliz comment” on the post, stating which of South Africa’s nine provinces they live in. Once you’ve done this, you get a response asking you to share the post in 10 groups. The post also includes a link to a web page where you can apply online. 

People are told sharing the post gives them a good chance of getting the job.

This is the basic modus operandi of several other Facebook pages, including the “Mzansi Careers” page, and others, with hundreds of thousands of followers. 

How does it all work?

Why are jobseekers told to share the post before they can apply for a job? 

The short and obvious answer is so that the scammers can line their pockets. For this to happen a trinity of sorts is essential. First, the Facebook posts lure the victims. Link aggregators then act as a bridge and, finally, Google AdSense ties it up by bringing in the money.

But how do they do it? Africa Check and the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab investigated. 

Facebook pages, and less often groups, are used to entice people to engage with the scammer’s network. The network generally focuses on education funding and employment – reliable magnets for people looking for opportunities 

The Facebook posts do not directly link to a job portal or employment website. Rather, when you click the link on a “Jobs Opportunities” post you are taken to a page with more links. This is a link aggregator, and there are lots of them.

A screenshot of the link aggregator used by the scam network.

Link aggregators have legitimate uses and allow users to share many links (or uniform resource locators – URLs – which are the unique addresses of web pages) at once. For some detail on how Manylink works, click here.

They allow you to customise what you want your readers to see. Clicking the customised link in the Facebook post takes you to a landing page with even more links, each seemingly offering different authentic-looking job or training opportunities. 

The Jobs Opportunities landing page is branded as “@careers24”, which resembles, a legitimate career and jobseeker portal in the Media24 group.

When you click any of these new links, you are taken to a fairly basic web page at

At least 760,000 South Africans fooled in 2020

Contacted about the page, Manylink founder Cruize Delaney told Africa Check he had seen an increase in traffic from South Africa since the beginning of 2020. 

“I wondered why this was. I went deeper into my analytics and saw some job sites and pages similar to how you describe that did look unusual,” he said. “That URL you’ve shown me is where a solid amount of South Africa traffic comes from.”

Delaney said “around 760,000” South Africans had visited Manylink so far in 2020. 

Manylink is free to use. Links are currently not reviewed but Delaney said a new version would include tools to help remove users who violated the terms of service. 

Traffic = $$$

Fake job adverts on the Jobs Camp website.

The text for the many job listings on is copied from old genuine job adverts or bursary application calls. The closing dates are either deleted or altered to make them seem current. In some cases, the adverts do not explain how, or where, applications must be submitted. In a nutshell, it is a waste of your time.

The website does not list any contact information or any meaningful way to identify the owners. Even username enumeration, which identifies website authors, only revealed that a user labelled “admin” is the main account for the website.

But records revealed that the website was registered by a man from Thohoyandou in Limpopo on 13 August 2019. His name is known to us.

We contacted the registrant to confirm if he was posting fake job adverts on the website and whether he was earning any money doing so. Although the questions were read and acknowledged, he did not respond despite saying he would. (Note: We will update this report should he do so.)

How much money do they make?

The resulting traffic to the website is monetised using Google AdSense, which allows publishers such as website owners to earn money from their online content. 

AdSense estimates that you can earn as much as US$4,500 from 50,000 page views a month. A page view is logged every time a web page is loaded and viewed by a human visitor.

But it also has a strong caution: there’s no guarantee you’ll earn this amount. Actual revenue depends on factors such as advertiser demand, user location, user device, seasonality, ad size and currency exchange rates.

Depending on the advertising model used by the website, Google will either pay for every 1,000 people who see the advert or for each click. In 2017 South African news website Groundup reported earning $0.61 for each 1,000 views. Substantially more is earned when visitors click on ads, with some users reporting about $0.55 per click.

But it is not possible to determine if, or how much, the owner of makes from Google adverts. 

‘I feel like they’re playing with us and that’s not right’

CrowdTangle, a social media monitoring platform, revealed that the @careers24 Manylink page was posted more than 500 times on Facebook, to a total of 28.2 million followers.

Njabulo Khumalo from Johannesburg could have been one of them. 

He had been unemployed for two years when he came across the “Employment Opportunities” page during a job search. “I joined a few groups hoping one day somebody will call me but I guess not. I haven’t got anything so far,” he told Africa Check.

And he won’t. He is just one of hundreds of thousands of people lured into an extensive network designed to make money off advert revenue – and off their hopes.

“Some people really depend on these posts. Then you get these people posting jobs on Facebook and at the end of the day nothing happens. I mean that’s really wasting people’s time. I feel like they’re playing with us and that’s not right.” 

Cayley Clifford is a researcher at Africa Check. Jean le Roux is a research associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.

Listen to a discussion about the investigation below.


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Health misinformation: How we can push back on conspiracies and unverified advice during a crisis

At the time we started working on this briefing, news that a new virus was claiming lives in the Chinese city of Wuhan was just breaking. By the time we completed it, the new coronavirus had spread across most of the world. Entire countries went on lockdown, with businesses shuttering up, and the public retreating indoors. But while things were coming to a standstill on the outside, the rumour mill went into overdrive. An avalanche of conspiracies, home-made remedies, and unsubstantiated DO’s and DON’Ts circulated across social, and some traditional, media. Much of it had the potential to cause real harm to people’s lives. 

As we continue to face confusing and contradictory misinformation about Covid-19, the health research brief reviews findings from psychology and health communication to explain how health misinformation travels, and determine what we, and you, can do to fight it.

A long history of misinfodemics

In many respects, Covid-19 is unprecedented. The speed of its spread, and the impact it has had on lives and livelihoods around the world are extraordinary. 

And yet, health myths are not unique to the new coronavirus. During the 2015 Zika outbreak, a post claiming that it was a man-made virus received over half a million views. It is not; it comes from the Aedes mosquitoes. When Ebola swept across West Africa from 2013 to 2016, unfounded rumours that medical staff were carriers of the disease dissuaded many from turning to treatment centres, leading to home remedies that thwarted efforts of containment, and even attacks on health facilities. Then there is the anti-vaccination argument – involving long-debunked, stubborn myths that just won’t go away. According to the World Health Organization, vaccine hesitancy is one of the world’s top 10 public health risks.  

To make sense of the different ways in which health misinformation takes hold of the public imagination, the research brief distinguishes between three scenarios.

Crises, conspiracies, and everyday advice

Crises refer to moments of radical disruption and information overload. This is what happens during outbreaks and national emergencies, when even the simplest everyday routines are thrust into uncertainty. Covid-19 is no doubt one such crisis.

Conspiracies, by contrast, are wildly unsubstantiated allegations; narratives of secret deals and hidden intentions, which spread from groups of convinced believers on to the public. Anti-vaccination conspiracies are one of the best-known examples of this. Despite the overwhelming evidence that vaccines save millions of lives a year, a staggering 21% of people around the world have doubts about their safety. 

Then there is what we call everyday misinformation. The realm of unsubstantiated advice, alternative cures, or even moral norms, which cause harm through setting unrealistic expectations of our bodies, and recommendations of unproven treatment.

There are ways to fight each one of them.

Crises: Use clear messaging to mitigate the information overload

Fighting misinformation in times of crisis takes clear, simple messaging, delivered early and regularly, using sources and channels that people trust. Think of messages like: “stay at home” or “wash your hands”.

This is because going through a crisis is a particularly stressful experience. We tend to actively look for information and try to make sense of the transformations around us. But paradoxically, we are less able to process complexity. The stress of a crisis, combined with a well-documented aversion towards uncertainty, makes it harder to distinguish information from the noise. This is why the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recommend simple, regular messaging, that leaves no room for interpretation.

Anti-vaccination conspiracies: focus on prevention to stop harmful narratives from gaining exposure

Anti-vaccination arguments, by contrast, are extremely difficult to correct. Experimental research has found that corrections to these arguments can make erroneous beliefs stronger in time. Notably, even in experiments which found a minor improvement in belief, there is no evidence that debunks improve intention to vaccinate.

We do not know with certainty why this happens. One explanation is that corrections increase the familiarity of myths – and with it, the public’s likelihood to believe them. We have looked at this in more depth in another briefing

Another explanation is that readers who are already sceptical of vaccination may reject new information to protect prior beliefs. This is what psychologists refer to as motivated reasoning. Finally, anti-vaccination attitudes may also be difficult to correct because they represent an entire worldview, rather than the sheer absence of information. 

A survey with over 5,000 respondents in 24 countries found that belief in conspiracy theories is the best predictor of vaccine hesitancy. This is not something one can easily change. Conspiratorial ideation is not a minor quirk like believing in star signs, but a person’s entire worldview, or way of interpreting events through filters of suspicion and mistrust. The World Health Organisation makes it clear that vaccine deniers are unlikely to change their minds. 

When it comes to vaccine hesitancy then, prevention is better than cure. Marking a misleading anti-vaccination post as false via Facebook’s Third Party Fact Checking initiative, for instance, reduces the likelihood of it influencing new audiences, even though it is unlikely to change the views of existing believers. Similarly, health communicators can mitigate hesitancy by emphasising high safety, instead of low-risk, and avoiding fear inducing pictures of needles. The multi-country survey found that disgust towards needles is the third best factor which explains vaccine hesitancy.

In every case, fighting misinformation is a matter of truth and trust 

Having the latest medical evidence is only half the fight against health misinformation. The other is about earning the public’s trust. This takes time, patience, and a long-term campaign that takes into account the media consumption practices and value systems of the public.

Research on everyday health behaviours finds that long-term interventions can improve health-seeking behaviours such as taking up walking, using protection, or accessing quit lines for smokers.  But this requires targeted, sustained intervention.

Take care over what you share

An experiment conducted in the US at the beginning of 2020, found that participants who were simply asked to choose which posts they would share from a list of 30 Covid-19 stories, selected false posts about as frequently as they selected true posts. This is a worrying finding. Focusing on what’s share-worthy, thinking about what’s likely to provoke the most intense reaction from our peers, can make us lose track of accuracy. 

The same experiment found that participants who were first asked to think about accuracy were a lot more discerning with their selections.

Therefore, stop, take a second, and think about what you share.

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ANALYSIS: Are IMF, World Bank to blame for Africa’s foreign debt burden?

As the continent weighs the economic havoc wreaked by the Covid-19 pandemic, there have been growing regional calls for debt relief, most recently by African Union chair Cyril Ramaphosa on Africa Day on 25 May 2020.

Why are many African countries buckling under debt? They can blame international lenders according to Dr Arikana Chihombori-Quao, a former AU ambassador to the United States.

“[The] IMF, World Bank, all other institutions. They make African countries jump through hoops. Loans we’ll never be able to pay,” she told US broadcaster Voice of America in a wide-ranging interview in April 2020.

“The US, when they borrow money, they are getting it at 1.5, 1.9[%] interest rate. Africans, when they get the same amount of money, they are paying 9, 10%. The people who don’t need a break, they get a break, the ones who need a break, they don’t get a break”.

Chihombori-Quao left office in October 2019. The AU took the unusual step of denying it had pushed her out for being too outspoken. 

But does Africa borrow internationally at rates five times more than other countries? We looked into this claim.

Loan terms based on country’s income status

Africa Check reached out to Chihombori-Quao for evidence of her claim, and to ask which other institutions she meant. We will update this report with her response.

We asked Dr Charles Adjasi, professor in development finance at the University of Stellenbosch Business School in South Africa, about how African countries borrow from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank

A country that accesses a typical World Bank loan “will access it based on its income status and at the corresponding interest rate”, Adjasi said.

The income status informs if the country borrows from two of the bank’s five units. These are:

Most countries in Africa only qualify for loans from the IDA, the World Bank told Africa Check. They are low-income countries and “get highly concessional financing in grant and interest rate free loans which only charge a 0.75% service charge”. 

As of April 2020, 68 countries were eligible only for IBRD loans and 14 of those were in Africa. Another 59 countries qualified only for IDA loans, 33 of them African. Of 17 “blend” countries, who could borrow from both units, six were from the region. 

Interest rates not as high as 9 to 10%

Loans currently made by the World Bank and the IMF do not have interest rates of 9 to 10%, Adjasi told Africa Check. They are pegged against the “Libor”, the London Interbank Offered Rate, a reference lending rate widely used in international banking.

Adjasi told Africa Check that loans from international lenders usually attract an interest rate of the Libor plus “+/-0.5%”. 

“Libor is around 0.4 to 0.9%,” which would add up to a rate of 0.9 to 1.4%. “So 9 to 10% is certainly too high for interest rates. That is even higher than lending rates in some developing countries and defeats the purpose for IBRD, IDA or IMF facilities,” he said.

An IMF spokesperson told Africa Check that it was impossible to know what loans the former ambassador was describing because her remarks were in “very general terms”. 

However, “the bulk of our lending to low-income countries is set at 0% or concessional terms.”

US cannot borrow from World Bank

Chihombori-Quao made reference to the United States borrowing money at lower rates. But the World Bank and IMF websites show that the country currently has no loans from either lender. The World Bank spokesperson said developed economies like the US were not eligible to borrow from it.

Adjasi told Africa Check that a high-income country like the US does not qualify and technically cannot borrow from the World Bank. However, it can borrow from international capital markets.

Higher interest rates in 1980s

Until the end of the 2018 financial year, IBRD loans to eligible members did not vary according to the individual circumstances of a country, the World Bank said. Members were “subject to the same pricing, regardless of their region of origin and based on the market conditions prevailing when the loans were issued”. 

The bank said it currently offers one flexible loan, the IBRD Flexible Loan, that takes into account a country’s financing or debt repayment needs.

Have African countries in the past taken loans at interest rates of up to 10%? 

According to historical data on IBRD loans, a number of countries, including Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe historically took loans with interest rates up to 12%, particularly in the 1980s. 

A rate query on the IMF website shows that adjusted rates of charge, which are levied on outstanding credit, were at 9% or more around 1990.

These rates were in line with prevailing interest rates, given that Libor was a factor in interest rates, Adjasi told Africa Check. 

“So with that perspective it is clear that facilities during periods of high Libor will attract higher rates for all, including African countries.”

Countries ‘graduate’, ‘reverse graduate’ between IDA and IBRD

A number of African countries that had progressed or “graduated” from the IDA to the IBRD are now back in the IDA, a process called “reverse graduation”. These are Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Republic of the Congo, Cameroon and Zimbabwe. Egypt returned to the IDA in 1991, but graduated up again to the IBRD in 1999.

The bank has in the past given a number of reasons for why IBRD countries have fallen back to IDA status. These include “sharp fluctuations in commodity prices coupled with exuberant over-borrowing in boom years” and “an abundance of commercial bank lending in the eighties”.

The bank notes that “with benefit of hindsight”, there was also “an over-optimistic view of the macro-economic prospects of many developing countries” leading to them becoming “over-indebted”.

It is possible that African countries that have reverted to IDA status could still owe IBRD loans, although some that have failed to pay have benefited from debt relief, Adjasi said.

“The main challenge here is that an unsustainable debt profile, or high debt burden, can push a middle-income country back into low-income status.”

The conclusion that African countries were singled out was not supported because IBRD and IDA pricing affects all eligible countries, Adjasi said. 

“So in the event that rates are 9 to 10%, it will apply to all. We also have no evidence yet to suggest that [higher income] Organisation for Economic Co-operation Development countries receive facilities at lower interest rates.”

Countries have ‘portfolios of loans’, says development studies expert

Dr Morten Jerven is professor in development studies at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and has authored books on economic development statistics in Africa. 

It is not easy to directly judge if the envoy’s claim is accurate or not, he told Africa Check.

“The quote is imprecise as it does not claim that the loans from IMF and World Bank specifically are at 9 to 10%,” Jerven said, echoing the World Bank and the IMF.

“Countries have a portfolio of loans. It is very possible that one country has one loan from the IMF at a concessionary rate, and another at above market rate,” Jerven said. That same country might also “borrow in private markets, such as through treasury bonds, where rates might be higher again”.

Former envoy barking up the wrong tree?

Dr Misheck Mutize, who teaches finance at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business, told Africa Check that it was “unlikely that African countries are discriminately charged more”. The former ambassador’s “claims and assertions have a political context and dimension to them”.

As loans from multilateral institutions were low and on concessional terms, their interest rates were not the issue, Mutize said. His research interests include credit ratings, financial markets and African economic policy. 

Rather, the issue was “the conditions that accompany the multilateral loans”. He said these could be austerity measures and structural adjustment programs, which include cutting public expenditure, abolishing social support and reducing the public wage bill. He also noted increasing commercial lending rates to contain inflation and currency devaluation. 

As the loans have to be repaid in foreign currency, their cost increases when local currencies lose value, Mutize said. “This is another huge source of cost, and the net cost of devalued currency might be much higher than open market interest rates,” he said. To escape the loan requirements, African countries have started borrowing on the Eurobond market, where interest rates differ among countries due to credit ratings. 

“African countries are paying more because they have poor credit ratings or a high risk of defaulting,” said Mutize.

All these factors therefore mean Africa indebtedness is more complicated than the interest claims made by Chihombori-Quao.

© Copyright Africa Check 2020. Read our republishing guidelines. You may reproduce this piece or content from it for the purpose of reporting and/or discussing news and current events. This is subject to: Crediting Africa Check in the byline, keeping all hyperlinks to the sources used and adding this sentence at the end of your publication: “This report was written by Africa Check, a non-partisan fact-checking organisation. View the original piece on their website”, with a link back to this page.

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ANALYSIS: What we know about Covid-19 and smoking so far


South Africa’s ban on the sale of tobacco products as part of Covid-19 lockdown regulations is the subject of a court battle, with current medical research coming under the spotlight. The available data settles little, with several surprising twists and turns. What is clear though, is that more research is needed.

South Africa went into lockdown on 26 March 2020, a drastic measure intended to slow the spread of Covid-19 and give the country time to prepare itself to fight the disease. Among the more controversial regulations during lockdown has been a ban on the sale of tobacco products.

This was challenged in court in May by the Fair-trade Independent Tobacco Association, a grouping of cigarette makers. In defence of the government’s ban, minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said there was “nothing sinister” behind it and that it was based on “relevant medical literature”. 

Statistics cited by the minister can be traced to a small review of available evidence published early in the outbreak. This analysed five studies from China, with a total sample size of 1,549 Covid-19 positive patients. Fifty-two of them were current smokers. (Note: The more recent reviews cited below include these studies, and others.)

The conclusion that the review reaches, and which has been shared by the minister, is that the severity of Covid-19 is greater in smokers. 

Are smokers at greater risk? And what does more recently published research reveal? We took a look. 

Negative effects of smoking

From a medical perspective, smoking is a destructive habit. A review of 45 studies on smoking shows it has a negative effect on virtually every organ system. It increases the risk of certain cancers, decreases immune function, and impairs reproductive, heart, lung, blood vessel and bone health.

The same review shows that smoking increases the duration of symptoms of viral lung infections by up to a day on average. Depending on the illness studied, current smokers are between 34% and 200% more likely to develop influenza-like illnesses than non-smokers. 

South Africa also has to contend with a heavy burden of tuberculosis (TB), an infectious bacterial disease that mainly targets the lungs. Studies have shown that smoking more than doubles the risk of TB infection and increases the risk of dying from it by a similar margin.

In light of this, governments could be tempted to crack down on smokers during a viral public health crisis. Covid-19 has, however, turned established convention on its head.

Data suggests smokers are underrepresented in Covid-19 studies

At present there are no randomised controlled studies – the type of studies which are among the most rigorous – which have directly investigated the effect of smoking on Covid-19. This means we have to gather our data via other methods. 

One way is to compare the characteristics of people infected with Covid-19 with the larger population. By looking at what happens to Covid-19 patients who are smokers, we can get an idea of the nature of the relationship between the disease and smoking. 

One of the largest studies on this comes from a collaboration between the International Severe Acute Respiratory and emerging Infections Consortium and the World Health Organization. It is an ongoing project involving 208 acute care hospitals in England, Scotland and Wales. A total of 20,133 Covid-19 positive patients are included in the study. Of these, just over 14,000 were asked about their smoking status. Of those asked, 6% are current smokers, compared to 15% of the British population.

Another frequently cited report published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at 7,162 Covid-19 patients for whom they had complete data for underlying conditions. Of these, 1.3% were current smokers, compared to 15.6% of the American population. Twenty-two of the smokers were hospitalised and five admitted to intensive care units.

‘Pre-print’ studies not yet reviewed

Due to the short timeline of current Covid-19 research, a number of “pre-print” studies have been released. These are studies which have been submitted to a journal and are currently undergoing peer review, the process where studies are evaluated and validated.

Pre-print studies are generally best avoided when trying to provide the highest quality commentary or evidence on a topic, but much of the available Covid-19 literature exists in this form. 

A pre-print study was conducted on 3,789 US veterans, of which 42.3% were smokers. It found that smokers were underrepresented among the 585 patients who tested positive for Covid-19. Among them 159 (or 27%) of smokers tested positive.

Another meta-analysis, or “study of studies”, looked at 15 Chinese studies, two small studies from the US and one from Italy. The results showed that the number of smokers hospitalised for Covid-19 was lower than expected when compared to the prevalence of smoking in the countries.

Smoking prevalence in Covid-19 patients compared to country populations 
Country Percentage of hospitalised Covid-19 patients that were current smokers  Prevalence of smoking in the country
China 7.7% 26%
USA 2.3% 15.6%
Italy 7.6% 19%

Source: What is Happening with Smokers and COVID-19? A Systematic Review and a Meta-Analysis

A pre-print study from a hospital in Paris, France, interviewed 340 Covid-19 positive in-patients and 139 out-patients on their smoking status. Given the level of smoking in the general population, they concluded the odds of being hospitalised as a smoker were about 20% of what would be expected.

This data yields a bizarre trend – smokers do seem to be less likely to end up hospitalised with Covid-19. It is contrary to everything we know about smoking and the expected disease outcomes for smokers.

What happens to smokers in hospitals?

What then of disease outcomes in smokers? It’s one thing to say that smokers may be less likely to be admitted to hospital with Covid-19 than non-smokers but what happens once they’re in hospital?

One of the largest studies looking at this was led by well-known evidence-based medicine advocate Ben Goldacre and a team from the University of Oxford and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the United Kingdom. They examined the records of 5,683 people who died from Covid-19 and the demographic and behavioural risk factors associated with death.

They found “weak evidence of a slightly lower risk” of dying from Covid-19 for current smokers. This means that when averaged out over a study population, there seems to be a tiny protective effect. In individual cases, however, this effect does not always appear.

The study noted that “even if smoking does have a small protective effect against Covid-19, this would still be massively outweighed by the well-established adverse health effects of smoking”.

A 2020 meta-analysis from the University of California in the US looked at 19 peer-reviewed papers with data from a total of 11,590 Covid-19 patients. In 29.8% of patients with a history of smoking, the disease became more severe or resulted in death. In comparison, this happened to 17.6% of non-smoking patients. The analysis noted that these findings were “not surprising” due to the negative effects of smoking on the overall function of the immune system within the lungs.

Taking a step back and looking at all of the data presented here we can tentatively agree with the hypothesis that smokers are less likely to be admitted to hospital with Covid-19, but once they are in hospital, their outcomes are similar at best and likely worse than nonsmokers.

Nicotine an avenue for research – but no proof yet

Exactly why this happens is unclear. The short answer is that we simply don’t know. But some research groups are starting to put together educated guesses.

Smoking tobacco produces a complex mixture of cancer promoting substances, toxins and other chemicals. None of these are known as yet to have any protective effects against viruses in general or Covid-19 specifically.

A team from the University of West Attica in Greece has proposed that nicotine may be responsible for the stark difference between the percentage of Covid-19 patients who are smokers and smoking prevalence in the general population.

The current theory is that nicotine might alter how our bodies respond to Covid-19 infection. A 2011 study from the University of Brighton in the UK exposed laboratory mice to fragments of bacteria to induce lung injury and inflammation. The mice showed lower levels of inflammation when treated with nicotine.

This nicotine connection is currently unsupported by real-world experimental data, but is a new avenue for research.

Findings should be interpreted with caution

As a team from the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health in Australia points out, we need to interpret all of these results with caution. Bias or a distortion due to some unaccounted-for error may play a role in why we’re seeing these unexpected results.

First among these is selection bias, meaning that the samples in these studies aren’t truly random. A sample may consist of people disproportionately less likely to be smokers. This includes health care workers, who are at higher risk of catching Covid-19 “but usually show lower prevalence of current smoking”. Many of these studies had incomplete datasets and sample sizes had to be drastically cut because smoking status was not recorded for many patients.

Social desirability bias may cause people to deny smoking. Patients may wish to be seen as making good decisions when it comes to their health. As a doctor in South Africa, I have experienced many patients reporting their smoking status incorrectly when being tested for Covid-19. In cases where someone has not smoked for a few days, they may report this as having “quit”. If not interrogated it may be recorded on their file.

Lastly, as mentioned above, many of these papers are still undergoing peer review, and await final approval before being published formally. While they provide new, interesting areas to explore they should be interpreted with caution – especially by those using them to justify health regulations. 

Petrie Jansen van Vuuren is a medical doctor based in Gauteng, with a postgraduate background in human physiology research at the University of Pretoria.

© Copyright Africa Check 2020. Read our republishing guidelines. You may reproduce this piece or content from it for the purpose of reporting and/or discussing news and current events. This is subject to: Crediting Africa Check in the byline, keeping all hyperlinks to the sources used and adding this sentence at the end of your publication: “This report was written by Africa Check, a non-partisan fact-checking organisation. View the original piece on their website”, with a link back to this page.

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