To fight coronavirus misinformation, Hollywood stars are handing over their social media accounts to experts from the US to Nigeria to straighten the record. Julia Roberts first passed the mic to Dr. Anthony Fauci.
While social media has been a vital source of information about the COVID-19 pandemic, it has also been a forum for unsubstantiated chatter, misinformation and conspiracy theories that too often go viral.
But a new initiative called #PassTheMic is seeking to cut through the noise by giving leading pandemic experts and frontline workers a powerful platform: the social media accounts of A-list celebs with millions of followers.
Launched by ONE, a self-described "global movement campaigning to end extreme poverty and preventable disease by 2030," with a particular focus on Africa, the initiative aims to promote "data, facts, and science to defeat COVID-19."
Actors Hugh Jackman, Shailene Woodley, Penelope Cruz, Sarah Jessica Parker, Busy Philipps, Danai Gurira and Robin Wright are among the Hollywood names that have committed to #PassTheMic each day and will be handing over their Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts to expert guests.
ONE will publish excerpts from interviews with the guests — "people who actually know what they're talking about" — and, as an added bonus, some video interviews will be available on ONE's YouTube channel.
Setting the record straight
Julia Roberts kicked things off on May 21, when she handed over her Instagram account to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and interviewed him on YouTube.
Fauci, the scientific face of the Trump administration's coronavirus response, has a tough job that requires toeing a fine line amidst a dire situation. The US is ground zero for COVID-19, with infections totaling more than 1.5 million and the death toll nearing 100,000, both global records. At the same time, he must work with a president who routinely dismisses or contradicts expert advice.
Trump has said he is taking the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine to guard against coronavirus, even though it has raised safety concerns and has not yet been approved. Fauci himself has said it has not been proven effective as a COVID-19 treatment, pointing to "anecdotal evidence" only and the lack of clinial trials. Trump is also seeking to reopen the country much earlier than experts like Fauci would like.
In his YouTube interview with Roberts, Fauci said, "The most important thing that people can do right now is listen to the scientific evidence. At the moment, that clearly indicates that physical separation is working to a certain extent. So now is not the time to tempt fate and pull back completely."
He added that, "The thing that keeps me optimistic [are] the power of science and the ability to develop interventions, diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines."
Roberts referred to Fauci as one of her "heroes." The immunologist has tackled countless pandemics and outbreaks, from HIV/AIDS to Ebola, and has advised every US president since Ronald Reagan.
Such sentiment aligns with the broader goal of #PassTheMic, which aims to raise public trust in such experts amidst an unprecedented pandemic.
On Roberts' Instagram account, Fauci posted on public-private partnerships to speed COVID-19 vaccine research and on "Coping with COVID-19." His final post was an image of himself washing his hands, which had 130,000 likes as of Friday morning. He thanked people for checking in and learning about the outbreak and vaccine research "to help you and this country get back to your normal lives safely. Thanks again to Julia Roberts for letting me take over her account!"
#PassTheMic, announced on May 20 by organizer ONE, will have a necessarily global outlook.
Experts to come will include Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the former president of Liberia, who will impart lessons learned from the Ebola epidemic of 2014-16 and explain why we need to improve national healthcare systems; Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, a former Nigerian finance minister who serves as the chair of the global vaccine alliance GAVI; and Minouche Shafik, an Egyptian-born British-American economist and the director of the London School of Economics.
Iweala will take over X-Men star Hugh Jackman's social media accounts.
ONE has previously pushed for a united response to the coronavirus pandemic with a petition that calls on world leaders to create a global pandemic response plan to "protect the vulnerable, support essential workers, and make a vaccine available to everyone." Strengthening the readiness of healthcare systems for future pandemics is also considered key.