Updates on Covid-19 are coming thick and fast from a variety of informants and delivered through a range of platforms including social media. But how do we know what we’re seeing and reading is factual and from a trusted source? Misinformation and rumors about the coronavirus are rampant, so health authorities and government organizations are taking new steps to ensure the public is getting correct information. In particular, they are targeting non-English speaking populations, who often have limited access to reliable news sources.
So what is the best way to reach those people? Leading authorities including the World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF MENA and Dubai Health Authority are turning to social media to educate Arab speakers on the important facts about Covid-19. The WHO has launched a WhatsApp messaging service in four languages, including Arabic, with the potential to reach two billion people. The messaging service provides the latest news and information on coronavirus, not only to the general public but to health workers and governments. The message alerts in partnership with WhatsApp and Facebook include details on symptoms and how people can protect themselves, the latest situation reports and numbers in real-time.
But how do we know that people are indeed turning to social media during this pandemic?
“We are witnessing a surge in our product use across the board. In the UAE, Instagram Live views have increased more than 50 percent just in the last week,” a Facebook spokesperson told livehealthy.ae in an email. “Instagram launched a ‘Stay Home’ sticker, which was shared over 100 million times globally in its first week, which is incredible. New stickers, including ‘ThankYouHeroes’ and reminders to ‘Stay Home,’ are now available in the UAE.”
Companies like Instagram are also updating their delivery of news information in the MENA region.
“Social media has become a critical source of information during this pandemic and we take that responsibility to heart,” adds the Facebook spokesperson. “For many Arabic speakers, social media is where they digest their news, so it’s important that we work with our Arabic partners to ensure the sharing of accurate information. People who search for information related to the coronavirus or Covid-19 on Instagram will see an educational message connecting them to resources from the World Health Organisation and local health ministries, such as the Dubai Health Authority.”
Authorities have also enlisted the help of the popular short-form video platform TikTok.
“As these institutions get on to platforms such as TikTok, they are able to shift the narrative and provide users with a reliable source of information on this pandemic,” says Rami Zeidan, head of video and creative at TikTok. “Through engaging short-form video content, legitimate authorities and information bodies such as the World Health Organisation, UNICEF MENA or the Dubai Media Office, are reaching out to the masses by speaking to them in a language they understand, to spread safe, factual and helpful information.”
TikTok is also putting actions in place specifically for the MENA region.
“We believe in a robust localization strategy,” explains Zeidan. “Arabic is the first language for many individuals across the MENA region and ensuring the Arabic community stays safe and informed about Covid-19 through information received in their first language is very important to us.”
Like Instagram, the platform is also using stickers to get messages across.
“TikTok customised quiz stickers in both English and Arabic in partnership with the WHO to encourage users to be part of the safety awareness campaign by actively learning about the coronavirus,” says Zeidan. “We also have two hashtags, the first one translates as ‘Together, We’ll Fight Corona’, which is aimed at keeping a unified front during the pandemic, the second one translates as ‘Without Corona,’ aimed at educating some of the common mistakes people make like not washing your hands properly and sneezing without covering your face.”
The uptake on TikTok is just as promising as for Instagram.
“The Arabic hashtag we launched for the Covid-19 outbreak garnered 302.6 million views on TikTok, while the live streaming with UNICEF MENA generated 230,100 views.” ” says Zeidan.
This week, Tiktok announced that a new challenge, #stayathome, had more than 227 million views, with celebrities in the region taking to the app to share their social distancing routines.
Emirati singer Balqees (@balqeesfathi) and fashion blogger Karen Wazen (@karenwazen) shared their experiences of social distancing on TikTok and advice on activities people can engage in from the safety of their home, while Saudi actor Abdul Rahman (@tashku8) reminded his followers about fruits and vegetables that can help boost immunity. The Al Jazira Club joined in to share their own PSAs, becoming the first club in the UAE to officially join TikTok and the first club in the GCC to collaborate with the platform.
“We are very proud to be the first Emirati club on TikTok,” said Nick Garcia, group CEO of Al Jazira Sports and Culture Club. “We see a lot of potential to reach a young audience with interesting, engaging video content and we’re always looking for innovative ways to bring our community closer to the club… Players and staff at Al Jazira FC want to play their part and we plan to share information to help keep the community safe and active during this time.”
To join the WHO’s Health Alert on WhatsApp: For Arabic, send “مرحبا” to +41 22 501 70 23 on WhatsApp, for English, send “hi” to +41 79 893 18 92 on WhatsApp
Devinder Bains is journalist of 20 years, working as a writer and editor on some of the biggest national magazines, newspapers and online publications in the UK and the Middle East. She specialises in women’s empowerment, fashion, race, culture and travel, and as a qualified personal trainer and nutrition coach, she is an expert in health and fitness. She splits her time between freelance writing and running Fit Squad DXB – Dubai’s largest personal training and wellness company.