Misinformation hampers response and foments unrest

The UN says that people across the world are encouraged to sign up as ‘information volunteers’ with ‘Verified’, to share trusted content to keep their families and communities safe and connected.

Representational image (PHOTO: Pixabay)

The United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres on May 21 launched a new initiative to fight COVID-19 misinformation through ‘digital first responders’. Aptly called ‘Verified’, this initiative aims to create a cadre of responders to increase the volume and reach of trusted, accurate information surrounding the ongoing crisis. Taking cognizance of the existing realities, the UN chief stated, “We cannot cede our virtual spaces to those who traffic in lies, fear and hate.”

Guterres said that misinformation is spread online, in messaging apps and person to person and 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.

This initiative is also a meeting point between science, solidarity and support. Under ‘Verified’, information will be provided around three themes: science – to save lives; solidarity – to promote local and global cooperation; and solutions – to advocate for support for populations that have been impacted by COVID-19. It is reported that the initiative will also promote recovery packages that tackle the climate crisis and address the root causes of poverty, inequality and hunger.

A statement released by the UN says that people across the world are encouraged to sign up as ‘information volunteers’ with ‘Verified’, to share trusted content to keep their families and communities safe and connected.

The volunteers - described as ‘digital first responders’ - will receive a daily feed of verified content that will be optimized for sharing on social media platforms, containing simple yet compelling messaging that either directly counters misinformation with facts, or fills in any gaps. The statement says that ‘Verified’ will partner with UN agencies and others, including influencers, civil society, business and media organisations, to distribute trusted, accurate content, while also working with social media platforms to root out hate and harmful information about COVID-19.

Identifying the rationale behind such an initiative, the UN feels that misinformation is hampering response and at times fomenting unrest. The noble initiative ‘Verified’ will be led by the UN’s Department of Global Communications, which is home to UN News.  “It is a collaboration with Purpose, one of the world’s leading social mobilisation organisations, and is supported by the IKEA Foundation and Luminate”, says the UN. Melissa Fleming, who heads the UN communications department, observed that in many countries, misinformation spread via digital channels is impeding pandemic 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”, she added. The initiative is also aimed at addressing this trend with hopeful content that celebrates local acts of humanity, the contributions of refugees and migrants, and makes the case for global cooperation. It has set itself the task to push back against the tide of “lies and hate” that has risen in tandem with the COVID-19 pandemic, by empowering people worldwide to share accurate information to help save lives and promote global solidarity. While such initiative should be embraced by all nations, any astute observer will also notice that there are world leaders who claim authoritative legitimacy over awkward and sinister stances, mistaking them as the panacea for all the inabilities to secure order and stability in their own turfs.

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First Published:May 23, 2020, 12:08 p.m.

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