UK Muslim groups fighting vaccine misinformation on WhatsApp

UK Muslim groups fighting vaccine misinformation on WhatsApp
A COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at the Al-Abbas Islamic Centre in Birmingham, central England. (File/AFP)
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Updated 13 March 2021

UK Muslim groups fighting vaccine misinformation on WhatsApp

UK Muslim groups fighting vaccine misinformation on WhatsApp
  • Muslim Council of Britain, British Islamic Medical Association working with other faith groups
  • Platform “is a very specific lawless wasteland of social media”

LONDON: Two Muslim organizations are among faith groups in the UK leading the battle against coronavirus misinformation on WhatsApp.
Messages spreading fake news about the virus are growing on the app. Similar to chain letters, the forwarding feature allows a single message to quickly reach thousands of people.
In a bid to fight the trend, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and the British Islamic Medical Association (BIMA) are working together to combat the misinformation.
They have created “myth-busting” messages that recreate the informal style of viral fake news clips.
Dr. Wajid Akhter, assistant secretary-general of the MCB and vice president of BIMA, said the past year “has been an information war.”
He added: “People should be allowed to share worries and concerns they have. But some of the stuff that we’re seeing going around definitely goes into the territory of deliberate misinformation. WhatsApp is a very specific lawless wasteland of social media.”
Akhter said: “We didn’t spend too much time trying to make it perfectly classically designed ... An anti-vaxxer would just flick on his camera, rant for 60 seconds and send it off and the lie spreads halfway around the world, so we weren’t going to wait.”
He added that the MCB’s reputation among the British-Muslim community is a crucial reason for the success of the campaign.
“It’s human nature that you’re more likely to listen to your friends or colleagues,” he said. “We’re literally the person praying next to them in the mosque. We’re relatives or friends.”
The UK Office for National Statistics found that people from minority groups in the UK are more hesitant about receiving the coronavirus vaccine compared to white adults.
WhatsApp has taken steps to fight misinformation on its platform, including limiting how much a single message can be forwarded.
A spokesperson for the platform said forwarding “can contribute to the spread of misinformation,” adding: “We believe it’s important to slow the spread of these messages down to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation.”