The texts looked official—one even had the UNICEF logo on it—but their messages were incredibly dangerous. One claimed that a blend of certain herbs cured COVID-19. Another said that temperatures above 26° Celsius killed the virus, so anyone living in warmer climates was safe.
But perhaps the most surprising thing was the messages’ source, explains HEC Paris MBA student Steve Tchuenté Kayo. His mom was sending them.
“All my family lives in Cameroon, where WhatsApp is widely used,” Steve explains. “She was doing what comes naturally to everyone: sharing messages from trusted friends with all her contacts.”
Experts say the COVID-19 outbreak may be the biggest source of internet misinformation ever, with fake news spreading as fast as the virus itself. Fortunately, Steve and his teammates at MLP Rocket may have a solution to this “infodemic” of misinformation. Their Accuro phone application recently won the Africa takes on COVID-19 MIT Challenge. This 48-hour hackathon hosted by MIT had 1500 competitors coming from 100 countries. Teams competed to find solutions to protect the most vulnerable populations on the African continent.
Because of his mom’s texts, Steve participated in the track seeking ways for African smartphone users to verify the accuracy of information they receive and share. He and his five teammates initially didn’t know each other. They introduced themselves on Slack and Zoom, and then worked across four different time zones to design and prototype their solution. In the end, MLP Rocket pitched their Accuro phone application to the judges. Their innovative app uses Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to fact-check information and distribute messages from official sources.
Thanks to the strength of MLP Rocket’s idea, the app is now moving into the incubation phase, with Steve and two of his teammates —Marilyn Osei and Tarik Fathallah —working to refine the prototype they presented during the hackathon. If successful, Accuro has the potential to reach up to 340 million smartphone users in West and Sub-Saharan Africa. To learn more about Accuro or to contribute to its development, visit the project’s official website.