Fake News: Infodemic And Epidemic

Mbugua Wa Ibau
5 min readMar 31, 2020


There is a lot of conflicting ideas online about the novel coronavirus. The causes, the symptoms, the numbers of infection, deaths, and recovery. The solution to the problem.

The dreadful byproduct of having social media and the internet is, everyone is a specialist and has a view about the matter.

Everybody is trying to find answers, and trying to come up with a solution. Regrettably, that has created a breeding ground for misinformation.

Crisis more often than not tend to generate high levels of uncertainty among the population, which in turn breeds into anxiety. This leads to these people seeking information about the threat that faces them.

Fake News

With little or no regulation of the internet, people can publish share and consume misleading information. Fake news has no basis in facts but is presented as being factually accurate created deliberately to misinform or deceive the public.

Africa has an 11.5% internet penetration, with the numbers growing by the day. With 3.8 billion active social media users around the globe according to a data report by global digital insights, you can tell, fake news have an audience to target.

During these times of crisis, viral messages have gone on a rise. People are distributing unverified information in WhatsApp groups, with friends, on Twitter, Facebook, and messages.

Most of them start by quoting an expert unbeknown to the readers to create some level of confidence. And almost every time but not always, urges the reader to share the information. These are red flags for fake news and fake information.

There are a few things you should look out for to ensure you’re not being misinformed.

1. Source

If a story cites a source, it’s crucial you go to the official website and check out the story. If you find the story there, the better, if you don’t, then take the information with skepticism.

If the source is not reputable, be skeptical. Unless you know the source personally, it’s a rumor.

2. Grammar Mistakes

Credible organizations and news sources take their time to make the news and are less likely to make spelling and grammar mistakes.

Excessive capitalization and overuse of exclamation marks should be a red alert.

3. Pseudo Accounts

Fake social media accounts are on the rise and mimic the genuine ones and mostly misinform.

Most credible organizations try to get their account verified to avoid problems associated with pseudo accounts.

4. Sharing

Messages that encourage you to share are aiming at going viral and, more often than not, are fake news. Don’t dispense information that you haven’t verified to be true.

Fake news thrives in a time of crisis and uncertainty by claiming certainty. The problem we encounter is even the smartest among us are bad at making a judgment on what to trust on the web

We don’t fall for fake news because we’re dumb, fake news has gotten better, weirdly to say, that it’s hard to distinguish what’s real and what’s fake. Our ability to vet information has been out on a balance

Fake news, click baits, deep fakes are a threat to humanity and our democracy with the stakes getting bigger by day.

The Illusion of Truth

The “illusory truth effect,” a vulnerability in the human system that replaces repetition with truth.Want to Make a Lie Seem True? Repeat It. And Again. And Again.

The illusory truth effect was first presented in a 1977 paper, ‘Frequency and the Conference of Referential Validity’ by Lynn Hashes and David Goldstein.

When information sounds about right and is repeated enough, we tend to believe its the truth, no matter how false it is.

People find themselves believing fringe, often hate-mongering conspiracy theories they would have dismissed under normal circumstances. It’s like a switch from skepticism to a fervent belief in conspiracy theories. Exposure to this fake news makes us believe it’s true.

Not everything we see, hear, and smell is real. For instance, a lot of people believe that crime, the violent kind has risen despite violent crimes having fallen. Almost every Kenyan believes Ruto is the Godfather and high priest of corruption in this country.

This erroneous belief may originate from the fact that violent crimes and ‘corruption in relation to Ruto’ receive a lot of media coverage, giving it extensive and repeated exposure.

Impact of Fake News

  • Fear

In a time of crisis like this (when we’re dealing with a pandemic like COVID-19), fake news breeds fear.

Information that the government is fabricating about the numbers of sick people and have died of Covid-19 pushes people to make irrational decisions and not trust the government out of fear.

Kenyans have been panic buying after rumors about the lockdown, leaving others unable to buy even basic stuff from the supermarket.

  • Violence

Fake news and propaganda mostly that target specific groups end up having significant consequences.

The group ends up being harassed and bullied on social media, with insults and threats being hurled at them.

  • Elections

False information, when done right, plays a significant role in swaying voters and hence elections.

This was observed in the 2016 USA presidential elections and also in the brevity referendum.


Stay safe, stay well.

Fake news can be as hazardous aa the epidemic itself. We’re fighting an infodemic as well as a pandemic. A bit of online self-discipline is urgently required.

When tempted to share a moving piece of “information” about covid-19 that just popped up into your social media feed, DON’T.

This story was first published on F.i.l.b.e.r.t




Mbugua Wa Ibau

Writer || Public Policy || Poet || Tech enthusiast