India, along with 12 other countries, has led an initiative here aimed at spreading fact-based content to counter misinformation on the coronavirus, with over 130 nations endorsing the global call to fight the “infodemic” relating to the COVID19 pandemic. On the initiative by Australia, Chile, France, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Latvia, Lebanon, Mauritius, Mexico, Norway, Senegal and South Africa, a total of 132 member states endorsed a cross-regional statement on “infodemic” or manipulated information.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said that apart from fighting the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, the world is also seeing a “dangerous outbreak” of misinformation about harmful health advice, hate speech and wild conspiracy theories and antidote to this pandemic of misinformation is fact-based news and analysis. India’s Permanent Mission to the UN said that it supported the UN Communications Response initiative ‘#VERIFIED’ and “calls for global action to fight infodemic in times of COVID19.
Last month, the United Nations launched ‘Verified’, an initiative to combat the growing scourge of COVID-19 misinformation by increasing the volume and reach of trusted, accurate information. The 13 nations co-authored the cross-regional statement, which said that in times of the COVID-19 health crisis, the spread of the infodemic’ can be as dangerous to human health and security as the pandemic itself. Among other negative consequences, COVID-19 has created conditions that enable the spread of disinformation, fake news and doctored videos to foment violence and divide communities.
It is critical that states counter misinformation as a toxic driver of secondary impacts of the pandemic that can heighten the risk of conflict, violence, human rights violations and mass atrocities, the cross-regional statement said.
The 13 nations called on everybody to immediately cease spreading misinformation and to observe UN recommendations to tackle this issue. “The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the crucial need for access to free, reliable, trustworthy, factual, multilingual, targeted, accurate, clear and science-based information, as well as for ensuring dialogue and participation of all stakeholders and affected communities during the preparedness, readiness and response,” they said.
The nations said that they along with other many countries and international institutions, such as the WHO and UNESCO, have worked towards increasing societal resilience against disinformation, which has improved overall preparedness to deal with and better comprehend both the “infodemic” and the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are also concerned about the damage caused by the deliberate creation and circulation of false or manipulated information relating to the pandemic,” the statement said.
“We call on countries to take steps to counter the spread of such disinformation, in an objective manner and with due respect for citizens’ freedom of expression, as well as public order and safety. We reaffirm the importance of ensuring that people are accurately informed from trustworthy sources and are not misled by disinformation about COVID-19,” it said. The statement called for action by all Member States and stakeholders to fight the “infodemic” to build what the Secretary General has described a “healthier, more equitable, just and resilient world”. “We cannot cede our virtual spaces to those who traffic in lies, fear and hate,” Guterres had said announcing the initiative.
“Misinformation spreads online, in messaging apps and person to person. Its creators use savvy production and distribution methods. To counter it, scientists and institutions like the United Nations need to reach people with accurate information they can trust,” he said. ‘Verified’, led by the UN Department for Global Communications (DGC), will provide information around three themes: science to save lives; solidarity to promote local and global cooperation; and solutions to advocate for support to impacted populations. It will also promote recovery packages that tackle the climate crisis and address the root causes of poverty, inequality and hunger.
The initiative is calling on people around the world to sign up to become “information volunteers” to share trusted content to keep their families and communities safe and connected. Described as digital first responders, the volunteers will receive a daily feed of verified content optimised for social sharing with simple, compelling messaging that either directly counters misinformation or fills an information void.
“In many countries the misinformation surging across digital channels is impeding the public health response and stirring unrest. There are disturbing efforts to exploit the crisis to advance nativism or to target minority groups, which could worsen as the strain on societies grows and the economic and social fallout kicks in,” UN Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications Melissa Fleming said.
“The Verified initiative will also work to address this trend with hopeful content that celebrates local acts of humanity, the contributions of refugees and migrants, and makes the case for global cooperation,” Fleming said.
The initiative is a collaboration with Purpose, one of the world’s leading social mobilisation organisations.