India supports United Nations initiative to stop spread of Covid-19 misinformation, fake news

Last Updated 30 June 2020, 15:29 IST

India is supporting a global initiative by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that aims to stop the spread of misinformation and fake news related to coronavirus on social media and has also co-authored a cross-regional statement to fight the “infodemic” or the manipulated information relating to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We support @antonioguterres UN Communications Response initiative #VERIFIED and call for global action to fight #infodemic in times of #COVID19," India’s Permanent Mission to the UN tweeted.

India, along with Australia, Chile, France, Georgia, Indonesia, Latvia, Lebanon, Mauritius, Mexico, Norway, Senegal and South Africa co-authored a cross-regional statement on infodemic and so far 132 countries have joined the statement that focuses on the need to spread fact-based content to counter misinformation on coronavirus.

The UN had launched ‘Verified’, an initiative to combat the growing scourge of Covid-19 misinformation by increasing the volume and reach of trusted, accurate information.

Through the initiative, the UN is calling on people around the world to “pause” before sharing content that may be false or have misinformation on social media.

The pause campaign is launching Tuesday, coinciding with Social Media Day, and consists of videos, graphics and colourful gifs that stress sharing only trusted and accurate science-based social media content.

“Fake news is causing global harm. Misinformation spreading around the world is hampering our ability to make progress on many of the world’s most pressing issues: from fighting the pandemic to the struggle for racial justice and the climate emergency,” the Pause campaign says.

As part of the global movement to tackle misinformation on June 30, Verified and the United Nations are asking people around the world to adopt a simple behavioural change when they feel their emotions rising online: “Pause. Take care before you share.”

The Pause campaign will be available in Hindi, Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Spanish, Russian and Portuguese.

“One of the ways it (misinformation) is spreading is the way people are sharing. The idea of pause is: take care before you share. We hope that ‘take care before you share’, starts to be a social norm that people have in the back of their heads and that will enable a personal behavior change,” Melissa Fleming, who oversees the UN’s global communications effort, said.

Through Verified, the UN has recruited so-called “digital first responders” to counter fake news.

These responders – of whom there are more than 10,000 signed up for the daily and weekly feeds – range from fact checkers in Colombia, to young journalists in the United Kingdom, and the number signing up is growing at a rate of about 10 per cent per week, according to the UN’s Department for Global Communications.

The cross-regional statement, co-authored by the 13 nations, 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. 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,” the statement said.

(Published 30 June 2020, 15:29 IST)

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