Image: People worldwide are at risk of immense harm due to misinformation and disinformation. Source: United Nations | Unsplash/Chris Yang - Photo: 2024

UN Seeks to Counter Misinformation, Disinformation and Hate Speech

By J Nastranis

NEW YORK | 25 June 2024 (IDN) — “The spread of hatred and lies online is causing grave harm to our world. Misinformation, disinformation and hate speech are fueling prejudice and violence; exacerbating divisions and conflicts; demonizing minorities; and compromising the integrity of elections,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, presenting on June 24 a starting point for solutions: the Global Principles for Information Integrity.

These five principles—[societal] trust and resilience; independent, free, and pluralistic media; healthy incentives; transparency and research; and public empowerment—are based on an overriding vision of a more humane [information] ecosystem. They call for an information environment that champions human rights and a sustainable future. And they provide a solid foundation for sustainable, inclusive development, climate action, democracy, and peace.

Threats to information integrity are not new, but they are “proliferating and expanding with unprecedented speed on digital platforms, supercharged by AI technologies”, warned the UN chief. Consequently, science, facts, human rights, public health and climate action are embattled.

Targeting information integrity impacts democracy—which depends on a shared, fact-based perception of reality. False narratives, distortions and lies breed cynicism, disbelief and disengagement. They undermine social cohesion, putting the Sustainable Development Goals further out of reach.

“Opaque algorithms push people into information bubbles and reinforce prejudices including racism, misogyny and discrimination of all kinds,” added Mr Guterres. Women, refugees, migrants, and minorities become common targets. Activists, advocates, researchers, scientists, and leaders are harassed and humiliated. The damage goes far beyond the digital realm, affecting billions of people who are not connected to the internet.

Lives are at stake when lies are spread about vaccines and other medical issues. The UN’s own operations and missions are compromised, as our staff deal with a tsunami of falsehoods and absurd conspiracy theories.

Mr Guterres explained that the United Nations Global Principles for Information Integrity are the result of broad consultations with Member States, with youth leaders, academia, civil society, the private sector including tech companies, and the media.

“Those consultations showed that much of the world shares our deep concern cand is searching for solutions,” noted the UN chief. Because they lay out a clear path forward, firmly rooted in human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and opinion.

He urged governments, the tech sector, and other stakeholders to listen to their people and their customers—and to respond. Some stakeholders—the big tech companies, advertisers and the PR industry, media outlets, and governments—carry an outsized responsibility.

Mr Guterres called on the big tech companies to take responsibility, acknowledge the damage their products are inflicting on people and communities. “You have the power to mitigate harm to people and societies around the world. You have the power to change business models that profit from disinformation and hate.”

Advertisers and the PR industry should stop monetizing harmful content, strengthen information integrity; protect their brand; and boost their bottom line.

The climate crisis is a cause of particular concern. Coordinated disinformation campaigns are seeking to undermine climate action. He urged “Creatives” to use their talents to greenwash, and PR agencies to look for clients who aren’t misleading people and destroying our planet.

“Raise and enforce editorial standards”

His message to media outlets is: “Raise and enforce editorial standards. Do your part to safeguard our future by providing quality journalism based on facts and reality. Find advertisers who are part of the solution, not the problem.”

Mr Guterres appealed to governments to commit to creating and maintaining a free, viable, independent, and plural media landscape, guarantee strong protections for journalists, ensure regulations uphold human rights. refrain from drastic measures, including blanket internet shutdowns, respect the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

“Let me be very clear: Everyone should be able to express themselves freely without fear of attack. Everyone should be able to access a range of views and information sources. No one should be at the mercy of an algorithm they don’t control, which was not designed to safeguard their interests, and which tracks their behaviour to collect personal data and keep them hooked.

He told members of the media that these principles aim to empower people to demand their rights, support parents, anxious for their children, young people, whose future relies on information integrity, civil society and academia, who are pushing for change.

He assured the public interest media, striving to convey reliable and accurate information that the UN hears their calls for guidance and support. “Don’t lose heart—raise your voices. Demand accountability; demand choice; demand control. You are the majority. And this is a fight we can win—together.” [IDN-InDepthNews]

Image: People worldwide are at risk of immense harm due to misinformation and disinformation. Source: United Nations | Unsplash/Chris Yang

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