UN chief warns against misinformation in fight against COVID-19

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United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivers a statement at the UN headquarters in New York, Jan. 6, 2020. Antonio Guterres on Monday called on parties concerned to exercise maximum restraint to stop escalation of global tensions. (Xinhua/Li Muzi)
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivers a statement at the UN headquarters in New York, Jan. 6, 2020. Antonio Guterres on Monday called on parties concerned to exercise maximum restraint to stop escalation of global tensions. (Xinhua/Li Muzi)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday warned against misinformation in the fight against COVID-19.

“Along with the pandemic, we are seeing a dangerous outbreak of misinformation, from harmful health advice and hate speech to wild conspiracy theories,” he told a high-level dialogue on press freedom and tackling disinformation in the COVID-19 context.

Blatant lies spread online at a terrifying rate. A recent analysis found that more than 40 percent of posts about COVID-19 on one major social media platform were posted by bots — automated programs disguised as people, he said.

The antidote to this pandemic of misinformation is fact-based news and analysis, said Guterres.

“Journalists and media workers of all kinds are crucial to helping us make informed decisions. In a pandemic, those decisions can save lives. Now more than ever, we need the media to document what is happening, to differentiate between fact and fiction, and hold leaders accountable.”

The use of social media has risen dramatically since the crisis began, as it provides unparalleled ways for people to connect and to access information. It is gratifying that social media platforms are beginning to take their responsibilities seriously, he said.

“I welcome recent commitments by social platforms to amplify factual content and combat disinformation — particularly those that are proactively removing harmful material. I urge them to build on these efforts which are helping to prevent the spread of dangerous rumors and fake cures.”

International organizations, and indeed governments, have an important role in promoting facts and scientific approaches. But no one can take the place of the media during this pandemic in providing the public with information and analysis, and in countering rumors and distortions, he said.

The high-level dialogue was organized by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to observe World Press Freedom Day, which falls on May 3. Enditem

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