Societies around the world are beset by “global diseases”, including systemic inequalities, which have helped fuel a rise in misinformation or the deliberate spreading of lies, the human rights chief of UN, addressing the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Michelle Bachelet said restoring public trust was key because misinformation really needs to be seen as a symptom of diseases such as systemic inequalitywhich has seen “deep-rooted discrimination” flourish, along with fragile institutions, a loss of faith in effective governance and a “limited rule of law”.
She said countries plagued by inequality were now at risk of instability and frayed coexistence within society.
Thrive in the midst of discontent
“Misinformation spreads when people feel their voice is not heard. It arises in contexts where political disenchantment, economic disparity or social unrest flourish,” she said.
“It thrives when civil society, journalists, human rights defenders and scientists cannot work, meet and speak freely. When civic space is limited or closed. When the human rights to freedom of expression and access to information are threatened.
It can be fueled by governments and officials, which can lead to hate crimes and violence.
But she warned governments against attempting “to officially order what is false and what is true, and then attach legal consequences to those determinations. Our human right to access and impart information is not limited to what the state considers ‘accurate’.
She called for a focus on “assessment How? ‘Or’ What communications are being revolutionized by technology and on unpack who is responsible for what.
“We have to look how best to contain the damage caused by misinformation, while addressing the underlying causes that bring misinformation to life and allow it to gain traction.
She said the speed and volume of information circulating online meant it could be easily manipulated, with campaigns using automatic tools, quickly creating a “false impression of broad popular support for or against certain ideas, or be used to counter and marginalize dissidents”. voices and ideas.
Organized disinformation campaigns are also used to silence rights advocates, journalists and minority voices, “and following repeated attacks, women, minority communities and others may be deterred from participating in the public sphere”.
The international response must be consistent with universal rights obligations, she warned.
“When debating the best ways to respond, we need to understand that censorship is not just an ineffective medicine – it can actually harm the patient.” Freedom of expression and the right of access to information are essential, she stressed.
“So I’m calling States to uphold their international obligation to promote and protect these rights, whatever social evil they seek to alleviate. Maintaining a vibrant and pluralistic civic space will be crucial in this endeavour.
She called for policies that support independent journalism, media pluralism and digital literacy, which can help citizens “navigate” the online world and stimulate critical thinking.
“States must also ensure wide and free access to information so that it reaches all communities and constituencies…Trust can never be achieved without true government transparency.”
“Insufficient” social media regulation
The human rights chief said social media companies have transformed the way information circulates, “and they have a clear role to play”.
“To begin with, we need to better understand how they affect our national and global debates. While platforms have taken welcome steps to improve their own transparency and redress, progress remains insufficient.
She called for an independent audit of the services and operations of social media companies, and for more clarity on how advertising and personal data are handled.
“And we need access for researchers and others to data within companies, which can help us better understand and counter misinformation.”
Ms Bachelet told the Human Rights Council that there are two “essential needs” in tackling growing misinformation.
“First, we need to deepen our understanding and knowledge: we need more research on how the digital sphere has transformed media and information flows; how best to build public confidence in this environment; and how different actors can help counter disinformation operations.
Secondly, she said that all discussions must take place within the framework of human rights standards. “Shortcuts don’t work here: censorship and large-scale content removals are an ineffective and dangerous response.”