Our pioneering WhatsApp course is leading the way in training journalists and citizens to spot misinformation and disinformation in Sudan – a country targeted by those attempting to destabilise it using hostile digital tactics.
In the first month of launch, 10,000 people had signed up for the easy-to access smartphone-based course including those in the difficult to reach conflict areas of Darfur, Kordofan and the East.
Misinformation and disinformation are rife in Sudan; a fragile state with a fractured media sector able to do little to counter it. Public trust in the media is low following years of press censorship, self-censorship, and media house closures. As a result, social media plays a key role in the dissemination of news and information, with much of it unverified and some designed to fuel tensions.
In recent years, Sudan has been targeted by foreign organisations aiming to destabilise the country. Public knowledge of mis and disinformation and internet safety is fairly low, and false information continues to reach many people across Sudan.
Sudan has been targeted by people or organisations who want to destabilise the country.
"Sudan has been targeted by people or organisations who want to destabilise the country. Despite some efforts by internet and social media companies, false information does get through - so it's important that journalists and society at large know the truth about what's happening," says Derek Ivens, a Thomson Foundation trainer with nine years’ experience training in Sudan.
The media training challenge in Sudan doesn’t stop there. Power cuts are frequent and downloading large amounts of data is expensive and inaccessible for most, especially as few people have access to conventional laptops. Poor travel networks make delivering face-to-face training and building capacity outside Khartoum difficult.
Thomson Foundation has been working in Sudan constantly since 2012, so we are well-placed to understand the challenges and opportunities. From this starting point, we launched a course in August 2022 in partnership with the British Council and funded by UKAid, aiming to show the damaging impact of disinformation and false news, and to offer practical solutions to help spot and counter false information. The self-paced free course is aimed at both media and civil society, and is easily accessible with no expensive data downloads.
The course is designed for mobile using the messaging platform WhatsApp, comprising of text and imagery only, with no large video downloads.
It was promoted through Thomson Foundation, The British Council and the British Embassy’s channels across social media and civil society. The launch created a buzz with many posting their results on social media, which helped the course to reach far and wide. As well as those living in the conflict areas, the 10,000 enrolments included the normally equally difficult to reach people living in camps for the internally displaced.
Disinformation affects almost every person in Sudan - so It makes sense to use a platform which is accessible to as many people as possible.
The digital nature of the course and the interactions of the users creates a record of how each participant answered every question. This means we can identify the questions and topics the participants find most difficult. For example, based on user responses, we can conclude that the majority of participants struggled most with the topics of chapter three ‘Spotting Suspicious Websites and Social Media Accounts’.
The analytics confirmed what we knew anecdotally – that the base level of knowledge on misinformation/disinformation and internet safety is quite low in Sudan. Those who did answer incorrectly were given an explanation and information so there was learning at every stage of the course, and those who completed the course were tested again before receiving their certificate
After the training, I don’t believe everything posted on social media before checking the available sources.
The high levels of engagement with the course, the follow-up survey, and the high completion rates show an appetite for training via WhatsApp, and signs of positive behaviour change.
Here's what some of the participants had to say in response to the post-course survey:
"The training changed my approach to trending news and I started to doubt any news that is not sourced. In addition to that it introduced me to the tools that help me verify pictures including the reverse search and how to find the actual date and differentiate between true pictures and modified ones."
"After the training, I don’t believe everything posted on social media before checking the available sources. If I didn’t find any sources then I wouldn’t share. Also I can recognise questionable information which aims to affect the public opinion."
The training changed my approach to trending news and I started to doubt any news that is not sourced.
The course is available in Arabic and English.
To register for the Arabic language course follow these instructions:
1) Open the WhatsApp app and send the word “Sudan” in a message to the number +1 903-459-6893.
2) Or click on the following link from your phone https://wa.me/+19034596893/?text=SUDAN and send the word “Sudan” in the conversation that appears.
To register for the English language version follow these instructions:
1) Open the WhatsApp app and send the word "MISINF" to the number +1 903-459-6893 via WhatsApp.
2) Or click on the following link from your phone https://wa.me/+19034596893/?text=MISINF and send the word "MISINF" in the conversation that appears.