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UN launches program to tackle COVID-19 misinformation

29 May 20200 comments

The United Nations has launched an initiative to combat the rising tide of fake news, conspiracy theories and hate speech that has come with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ‘Verified’ program aims to empower people across the globe to share accurate information to help save lives and promote global solidarity.

Launched this week by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, it will also create an active group of “digital first responders” to increase the volume and reach of trusted, accurate information surrounding the crisis.

“We cannot cede our virtual spaces to those who traffic in lies, fear and hate”, Mr Guterres said in a statement.

“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.

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, the UN says.

The initiative will also promote recovery packages that tackle the climate crisis and address the root causes of poverty, inequality and hunger. 

People across the world are being encouraged by the UN to sign up as “information volunteers” 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 optimised for sharing on social media platforms, containing simple yet compelling messaging that either directly counters misinformation with facts, or fills in any gaps.

Verified will partner with UN agencies and others, including influencers, civil society, business and media organizations, to distribute trusted, accurate content, while also working with social media platforms to root out hate and harmful information about COVID-19, the UN says.

The program will be overseen by the UN’s Department of Global Communications and in collaboration with ‘Purpose’, a social mobilization organisations.

It is being sponsored by the IKEA Foundation and philanthropic organisation Luminate.

According to UN communications department head Melissa Fleming many countries are seeing misinformation spread via digital channels which 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 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.”