Public Relations

Local team uses art and storytelling to tackle misconceptions

With the COVID -19 vaccines being a prominent topic in the news over the last few months, it is only natural that people would have questions about their safety and effectiveness. But how do you know if the information that you are reading is reliable? We live in a world where we are bombarded with opinions and misconceptions disguised as facts, an issue which is particularly prevalent with young adults who rely on getting much of their information
from social media.

“Often young adults feel embarrassed for showing fear or ignorance about a topic, and as a
result they would look for answers online rather than seeking professional advice, which can be
dangerous,” said Nabeel Petersen, Director of Interfer, a company focused on storytelling and
research, co-founder of the South African-based NPO, the Pivot Collective, co-founder of the
creative arts studio, Soema Just, based in Kenilworth, Cape Town, and member of Raak Wys, a
black arts collective striving for inclusive transformation through the Arts.

Petersen recently lead the creation of the South African leg of PLANET DIVOC-91, a nine-part,
sci-fi satire webcomic series focused around a fictional pandemic outbreak, which takes place on
another planet. The creators of the webcomic have collaborated with some of the world’s most
prestigious scientific organisations to address fallacies surrounding health issues faced by
young adults.

The series, which was inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic and particularly young peoples’
experiences thereof aims to stimulate important conversations about their experiences, Covid19
and mental health and provide them with a platform where they can engage in conversations
about real-life issues. The series also aims to tackle tough topics, such as vaccinations,
stigma/discrimination, misinformation and mental health, in a format which is safe for
participants to share their thoughts, as well as one which can share facts and credible
information.

Chapter 6 of this globally produced comic is the South African contribution to the series. Titled Same but Different, it was written by Petersen, and focuses on conspiracy theories, distrust and the danger of misinformation. The front cover of Chapter 6 was designed by local visual artist and muralist, Mohamed Hassen, also known as F∅K and the music for the chapter was produced by South African house/Gqom DJ, NV_Funk.

“We wanted to use methods and storytelling to inspire and challenge communities to think about the best ways of actively involving young adults in ongoing and future research, and to challenge research and engagement to be more inclusive, relevant, sensitive and responsive to those often considered “the researched”. It’s time we changed the way we view and design research processes. And in this process, also listen to these young adults, their concerns,
suggestions and general expressions. Their feedback, thoughts and concerns are directly inserted into the storyline for this chapter and the entire series. One such extended workshop with young adults from South Africa, UK and India was focused on the ending of the series which we then included in the series” continues Petersen.

As part of the research and planning for this chapter, a number of sessions were held with young people to hear their concerns and feedback. Many stated that they were confused as to how to
tell if news or information is credible or fake.

Petersen share tips for young adults who are confused about whether the information they are
receiving is credible or not:

1.CONSIDER THE SOURCE
Any site offering medical advice should clearly state the name of its owners or sponsors
and should come from a reliable source. The data and information should be trace-able.
2.CHECK THE DATE
When reading any sort of information always check the date of the latest update of copyright to make sure that what you are reading is up to date and relevant.
3.LOOK OUT FOR REFERENCES

Any important information must be accompanied by explicit references or links to scientific
publications or academic research.

“We have been encouraged and motivated by the way in which art, science and tech can come
together to create new platforms in which young adults can address issues about mental health,
and general social and environmental life. We hope that these learnings can also help those in
bio-medicine, government and research reframe how they speak to and engage young adults in
ways that not only engage them but genuinely involve them” concludes Petersen.

To view the Planet DIVOC-91 series, visit WebToons: https://bit.ly/planetdivoc91, For news about the comic follow, @PlanetDivoc91 on Twitter and Instagram.

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