Reducing the spread of misinformation in Africa

Why We Invested: Africa Check

We live in a growing environment of public mistrust, especially when it comes to the media, and the explosion of the number of sources of information makes deciphering what is factual, what is misinformation, and what is propaganda increasingly difficult. An absence of credible information prevents citizens from participating in public decision-making, particularly on key issues of concern such as education, health, and governance.

There are a number of efforts popping up to address this trust deficit and the “fake news” crisis around the globe. One of these is Africa Check, which has been at the forefront of providing information and tools to improve the quality of public debate and the decision-making capacity of policymakers and citizens. Africa Check views their role as twofold: to actively reduce the circulation of false claims and improve access to evidence-based information, while also empowering others — the media and wider society — to check the accuracy of claims themselves. We believe this innovative approach could be a game-changer for misinformation in Africa and the rest of the world.

Omidyar Network first supported Africa Check in 2014 when they were a team of just three dedicated people intent on building a more fact-based environment for public debate in South Africa. Since then, they’ve grown to 25 staff members with operations in four African countries — South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, and Senegal — publishing in English and French, and with a broad reach both online and offline via partnerships with radio and TV stations across the region. Africa Check also plays a leading role in the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), which works to set standards for fact-checkers and coordinates global research and thought leadership on fact-checking. In addition, Africa Check has driven the expansion of fact-checking throughout Africa through their annual African Fact-Checking Awards and by mentoring and training media organizations and civic groups across the continent.

Some notable examples of their impact include:

  • Politicians from all major political parties in South Africa have quoted their reports or requested specific fact-checks, and government agencies have quoted them in official documents.
  • The World Health Organization corrected their misleading claim about the number of births to teenage mothers in sub-Saharan Africa in response to a fact-check from the organization’s Senegal bureau.
  • The director of Amnesty International for West & Central Africa, Alioune Tine, withdrew a false claim that was circulating on social media about a particular type of vegetable eliminating 72% of breast cancer cells.
  • New media and CSO fact-checking initiatives across the continent, for instance Premium Times’ fact-checking platform Dubawa, credit their creation to the inspiration and guidance of Africa Check.

Nevertheless, it is increasingly clear that a simple correction of a false claim is not enough in today’s world where false claims can easily go viral and methods of spreading misinformation are rapidly changing. To grow their reach and respond to these new trends, Africa Check has partnered with another Omidyar Network grantee, Full Fact, to test automated fact-checking tools that can be used in the region. Africa Check is also working to improve news literacy and fact-checking skills among the general public, with a particular focus on young people, ensuring they are equipped to critically evaluate claims whenever and wherever they come across them.

Omidyar Network is therefore proud to announce a new grant to Africa Check of $1,000,000 over three years to support their continued growth. This funding forms part of Omidyar Network’s 2017 commitment of $100 million over three years to support initiatives around the world that strengthen independent media and investigative journalism, tackle misinformation and hate speech, and enable citizens to better engage with government on critical issues.

We at Omidyar Network understand the critical role the Fourth Estate plays in informing citizens, empowering them with accurate information and improving the dialogue between them and government. Along with Africa Check, we continue to learn with and support our portfolio, including the International Fact-Checking Network at PoynterFull Fact, and Chequeado, among others, in working towards a more reliable, credible, and independent media industry.