The United Nations launched an initiative Thursday to counter the spread of online misinformation related to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We cannot cede our virtual spaces to those who traffic in lies, fear and hate,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement marking the launch of the “Verified” campaign.
The U.N. chief has previously raised the alarm about rising discrimination, hate speech and xenophobia related to the pandemic, much of it fueled by online platforms.
Misinformation and conspiracy theories spread quickly online and via messaging apps. A discredited film about the virus has gone viral, being shared and viewed millions of times.
“Purveyors of misinformation are creating story lines and slick content that are filling information voids where science has no answers,” U.N. communications chief Melissa Fleming said at the campaign’s virtual launch. “They offer promises of cures that have no evidence of benefit or may even be harmful. They are savvy about using narratives that link to people’s fears and appeal to people’s need for answers or need to find a culprit.”
The U.N. campaign aims to reach millions of people worldwide with information in several languages about COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. It will rely on “information volunteers” who will receive a daily blast of content to disseminate through their communities. It will come packaged for online or broadcast platforms from already verified U.N. reports, data and policy briefs and the World Health Organization.
“People are hungry for information they can trust and they are turning towards institutions and scientists in ways we haven’t seen in decades,” Fleming said.
“Verified” will also promote COVID-19 recovery packages that tackle the climate crisis and address the causes of poverty, inequality and hunger.
The U.N. is collaborating with Purpose, a leading social mobilization organization, as well as with social media influencers, civil society, business and media, to disseminate material and work with social media platforms to root out hate and harmful assertions about COVID-19.