Nigerian health ministry’s social media hiatus widens information gap

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Minister of Health, Mohammed Pate

Despite heightened threats of misinformation, Nigeria’s federal ministry of health has been on full social media hiatus since February 2022. On Facebook, the hiatus had started in 2021. Since February 2022, Nigeria’s federal ministry of health has not posted anything on its official Facebook and Twitter pages. The former minister of health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, did also not post on his official social media handle from March 2021 until the expiry of his tenure in 2023. The health ministry’s last post on Twitter was on February 24 when the health minister received the Japan Ambassador to Nigeria, Matsunaga Kazuyoshi to discuss possible areas of collaboration as regards capacity building of medical personnel and health care reform.

On Facebook, while the hiatus started in February 2022, the official page that had over 1.2 million followers had been sparingly used since 2021. Throughout 2022, only one update was posted on the Facebook — an anti-tobacco consumption video that was originally shared by the National Film and Video Censors Board. In 2021 when the ministry began to sparingly use its Facebook page, only two posts appeared on the page. In sharp contrast, in December 2020 alone, 17 Facebook posts were published on the verified page that had active engagement including tens of thousands likes and hundreds of comments per post. On Twitter where the ministry’s official handle has about 360,000 followers, it was more active than the Facebook page before the hiatus began in February. In February alone, 32 tweets were published.

Even though no new posts have been published on the handle since February, it was noted that individuals who had access to the handle used it to ‘like’ tweets by Twitter users including Nigeria Health Watch, a technical assistant at the NCDC, Managing Director of Society for Family Health Nigeria, WHO DG, Private Sector Health Alliance in Nigeria, UNDP and its representative to Nigeria, and Marie Stopes Nigeria.

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the health ministry took steps to combat misinformation on social media surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. This became necessary because as the pandemic swept across the globe, false and misleading information about the virus began to spread rapidly on social media platforms. In Nigeria, the government health ministry itself said it recognized the potential threat that this misinformation posed to public health and took action to combat it.

The ministry’s social media presence, especially on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, were used to share accurate and up-to-date information about the virus and its spread. The ministry also worked with fact-checking organizations and other groups to identify and debunk false information that was circulating on social media.

In addition to sharing accurate information, the ministry also made an effort to educate the public on how to identify and avoid misinformation. This included promoting critical thinking skills and encouraging people to verify information before sharing it.

But long before the current hiatus, the ministry faced challenges in keeping the public informed about the pandemic in a timely manner. Reports identified instances where important updates and information about the virus were not shared on social media in a timely fashion, leading to confusion and uncertainty among members of the public.

Experts described the current hiatus as particularly dangerous in a public health crisis, as it can lead to people making decisions based on incorrect or outdated information. For instance, none of the pages have had any content shared regarding the Mpox outbreak of 2022 even though it is also now a public health emergency of international concern according to the WHO. Similarly, the ministry’s Twitter page as at press time, still has Dr. Olorunnimbe Mamora listed as the minister of state of health even though he has left the position since July 2022. To prevent the spread of misinformation and protect public health, it is important that the federal ministry of health continues to actively engage with the public on social media and ensure that it is regularly sharing accurate and up-to-date information.

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