Coronavirus (1044) The Middle East Became a Battleground for Disinformation, and We Are Fighting Back

23 October, 2020

A perspective from Ideas Beyond Borders: 'We share, translate and promote ideas that foster critical thinking, civil rights, science, pluralism, and more to ultimately bring to life a modern, pluralistic Middle East, led by the people of the region.'

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It was on February 22nd of this year that Iraq reported its first case of COVID-19 in my mother’s hometown of Najaf. It was an individual returning from a religious site in Qum in the neighboring country of Iran who first brought COVID-19 to Iraq.

It only took a moment for me to see on my Facebook newsfeed the first conspiracy theory spreading around: that the United States of America had created the virus and this was just a “political game.”

Iraq is not new to disinformation. During Saddam Hussein’s regime, Iraq only had three TV channels, all run by the state, which kept repeating lies about Iraq winning the gulf war and the Iran war. Today, Iraq remains fertile ground for misinformation. There are many reasons for this: the destruction of the education system over the last few decades has to lead to a less well-educated populace; significant ongoing mistrust between the general public and the amazingly corrupt Ministry of Health leads to increased willingness to share and believe misinformation; and finally, the lack of accessible, factual information in Arabic not just about COVID-19 but on pretty much everything means there is very little to counter the disinformation and misinformation that’s out there.

For those of you who know IBB well by now, this is our bread and butter, with our former experience of countering extremist messaging. We quickly adapted and utilized some of the same tools of creating engaging, easily accessible, easily digestible content in Arabic to counter those lies while focusing on long term goals of education tools of critical thinking and media literacy.

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Best wishes, Neil

Let's build a future where people are no longer dying for lack of healthcare information - Join HIFA: www.hifa.org

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - www.hifa.org ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages in collaboration with WHO. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: facebook.com/HIFAdotORG neil@hifa.org