Taking the fight against COVID-19 online

As the COVID-19 virus tightens its grip on communities across the globe, access to honest, trustworthy information is essential, both so we know how to protect public health and also to prevent anxiety turning into panic and social unrest. Misinformation abounds and rumour and speculation spread as rapidly as the virus. As more and more people isolate themselves, the digital space has taken on increasing importance, not only as a source of news but also for social contact. RNW Media is working to support the young people in our digital communities, and our in-country teams around the globe are busy creating multi-media content in tune with local issues and concerns.

Our Citizens’ Voice and Love Matters teams in China were the first to be confronted with the outbreak and its effects on daily life. Fortunately all our China colleagues are safe and well but our office in Shanghai was closed and team members worked from home. Justice4Her, our project working to reduce gender-based violence (GBV) towards China’s women migrant workers, produced content covering a range of virus-related topics, including an increase in incidents of GBV. One of the most popular articles discussed masculinity and gender stereotyping around the outbreak. It was written by Shanghai-based infectious disease expert Zhang Wenhong, who has became an online celebrity for his straight talking around the virus. As a result of this article, the Justice4Her team was approached by Mango TV, one of China’s most popular online media organisations, and asked to provide advice on gender inclusivity for their projects. Justice4Her and Mango TV are also exploring the possibilty of developing a joint female-led TV show focusing on gender-sensitive reporting of women’s stories

Her stories
Justice4Her also launched an online story competition called ‘Her Stories During the Virus Outbreak’ together with Baidu (China’s leading search engine). The aim is to raise the visibility of women from different sectors fighting against the virus and highlight their contribution. ‘Her stories’ had received over 2,000 articles, videos and other types of submissions by early March, including from the British Embassy in China. The winners will be announced later this year.

Love in isolation
The Love Matters China team produced content specifically targeting young people who are self-isolating. Topics included sex and the internet, phone sex, masturbation, long distance relationships, online dating and how to manage intimate relationships when in quarantine together. Love Matters China also organised a live online broadcast with a medical expert who answered questions relating to men’s sexual health issues and their difficulties in accessing services.

Young Africans are ‘waking up’
COVID-19 has been slower to reach the African continent, but as cases began to increase this week the Director-General of the World Health Organization warned that Africa should “prepare for the worst”. Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the first African to lead the UN Health agency, said, “I think Africa should wake up. My continent should wake up.” RNW Media’s platforms in Africa have been posting regularly about COVID-19 for the past two weeks with the aim of ‘waking up’ their young audiences and are now planning for and implementing more  activities to tackle the issues. Our platforms in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi are both in discussions with the local WHO offices about collaborating on awareness raising campaigns.

The Yaga Burundi team continues to publish almost daily in French and Kirundi on COVID-19 related issues. Articles cover such issues as the difficulty of quarantine in a society where most people live day-to-day, the way corruption may hinder any containment measures and the potential effects on the elections due in two months ’ time and the country’s fragile economy. Social media posts using the hashtags #sante or #amagara urge the Yaga community to be aware and take care of themselves and each other. Yaga regularly organises offline debates and is now considering how these could be livestreamed via YouTube or Facebook to minimise large gatherings.

Facts and fakes
Habari RDC is also posting and publishing information and articles frequently. Factual content is proving popular. One article that triggered particularly high engagement was Coronavirus in DRC: 5 facts and 5 fakes.  It busted some of the most prevalent myths – such as that black people are immune and prayer alone will cure those who become ill, and also offered information and advice about how people can protect themselves. There are also creative responses to the situation – journalist and blogger Jean-Hubert Bondo raised his voice against the pandemic with a poem called “Cursed be the coronavirus! ” Its closing lines read:

…covid-19, your place is in the abyss
Fuck you with your evil driving force
Corona: we have to finish!
I refuse that my country is the land of all viruses
Our dear planet earth must heal.

Read the original French poem here.

The Habari RDC team have been approached by Facebook for input on covering the situation and have also met with the Ministry of Health to discuss possible collaboration.

Eating garlic won’t help
Our Benbere platform in Mali has created articles and posts looking at such issues as Mali’s readiness to cope with an outbreak, how ‘media-created psychosis’ can be more harmful than the disease itself and tackling the myths circulating in Mali such as the virus being unable to survive above 20 degrees centigrade, that eating garlic will keep you safe and that the second hand clothes imported from Europe to Africa and sold in thrift stores are a source of contamination.

Can we keep kissing?
Our Love Matters platforms in Africa are sharing posts and articles about the (potential) effects of COVID- 19 on intimate relationships and sexual health. The DRC-based Amour Afrique Congo took a look at kissing with the blog Love in the days of Coronavirus: kissing, kissing, caressing … should we take a break? In Kenya, the Love Matters team are sharing information on how people can protect themselves and their partners in articles like this one about self-care within a relationship. The Love Matters Naija team created a video explaining basic hygiene precautions which proved hugely popular on WhatsApp and Facebook. It was also shared with partner organisations International Centre for Sexual Reproductive Rights (INCRESE), Education is a Vaccine (EVA), Equality Triangle Initiative (ETI), and Accountability Lab, who then shared it further within their networks.


Yemenis have had enough
In Yemen, fear of the consequences of an outbreak is widespread due to the country’s severe humanitarian crisis and a struggling health system which has been pushed to breaking point by years of attacks often targeting hospitals and clinics. Our Manasati30 platform recently published this cartoon which neatly summarises the country’s situation.

The figure of death is urging the COVID-19 virus not to enter Yemen, saying:

Where are you going? Those Yemenis have had enough.. no salaries, no water, no electricity, and no internet, their plight should touch even the hardest heart !

Staying positive
As part of their social media series #positive_society, the Manasati30 team are sharing positive stories that highlight local initiatives and voluntary work done by community members to raise awareness on hygiene. Examples of this approach include a Facebook post about Yemeni women working flat-out to sew 100,000 medical masks.

Manasati30 is now designing  an awareness- raising campaign focusing on hygiene, correcting misinformation on COVID-19, and inspiring young people with ways to make the most of their time if in lockdown. The campaign will target teenagers, and young adults with interactive content and tools from quizzes, to user-generated content and creative visuals.

Work and study online
In Egypt, schools and universities are closed and cafes, shopping malls, sports clubs and nightclubs have restricted opening hours. RNW Media’s Cairo-based Masaraat and Love Matters Arabic teams are both producing relevant content and continuing to engage online with their communities. The Masaraat platform is focused on economic and employment opportunities for young people in Egypt and the wider Arab region. As well as sharing WHO posts with reliable virus-related news and information they are creating articles on topics such as precautions to take in the workplace and tips on working from home.  They are also providing information about online courses  along with advice on overcoming the challenges of online study. The team are planning a livestream discussion on Facebook with an expert who will answer users’ questions about freelancing and working from home

Graphic created by Masaraat urging people not to discriminate against those who are ill.

Dating and intimacy
Love Matters Arabic is posting regularly on the precautions people should take to protect themselves and each other and is running an online survey about how COVID-19 is affecting relationships. Articles are covering topics such as dating and intimacy and how young people can work on improving their relationships while staying home.

Do more!
A large majority of young Libyans who responded to a Huna Libya poll were unhappy with their government’s preparations for dealing with COVID-19. On Facebook, 76 percent of those taking part said more should be done, while on Twitter that number rose to 80 percent. Since the poll was taken (March 14-15), the Libyan authorities have imposed strict restrictions in the east and west of the country.  Under the hashtag “your safety is our safety”, the Huna Libya team are posting a series of graphics on how to help prevent infection with topics such as keeping your mobile phone clean, good daily habits and buying bread safely. They are also offering tips on how to spend your time productively while social distancing.

How to buy bread safely

Huna Libya is currently planning a live Facebook stream with a Libyan medical professional who will answer questions and offer advice to raise awareness of the situation. Videos in preparation include one called How are nations singing their way out of corona? And COVID-19 prevention instructions using sign language for the deaf.