As the world battles the deadly COVID-19 pandemic and people are searching for clear facts and answers to questions, that could help save countless lives, “a dangerous epidemic of misinformation” is also spreading, the United Nations chief warned on Tuesday.
Secretary-General António Guterres describes the impact of the coronavirus as “the most challenging crisis we have faced since the Second World War”, leaving millions scared, and seeking clear advice on how best to protect themselves and their families.
While it is a time for science and solidarity, a “global ‘misinfo-demic’ is spreading”, he said in a video message.
Falsehoods ‘filling the airwaves’
“Harmful health advice and snake-oil solutions are proliferating”, Mr. Guterres spelled out. “Falsehoods are filling the airwaves. Wild conspiracy theories are infecting the Internet. Hatred is going viral, stigmatizing and vilifying people and groups”.
Underscoring that the world must also unite against COVID-19, he prescribed “the vaccine” of trust.
First, he urged, “trust in science”. He also saluted the journalists and others who are fact-checking the mountain of misleading stories and social media posts.
Social media company responsibilities
“Social media companies must do more to root out hate and harmful assertions about COVID-19”, he stressed.
Secondly, he advocated for trust in institutions that are grounded in responsive, responsible, evidence-based governance and leadership.
And finally, he emphasized that we need “trust in each other”, with mutual respect and human rights as our “compass” to navigate this crisis.
“Together, let’s reject the lies and nonsense out there”, asserted the UN chief.
To this end he announced a new UN Communications Response initiative “to flood the Internet with facts and science”, while countering the growing scourge of misinformation, which he maintained is “a poison that is putting even more lives at risk”.
Even before the pandemic officially began, UNESCO issued warnings over some of the orchestrated misinformation campaigns designed to erode fact-based journalism.
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“There seems to be barely an area left untouched by disinformation in relation to the COVID-19 crisis, ranging from the origin of the coronavirus, through to unproven prevention and ‘cures’, and encompassing responses by governments, companies, celebrities and others”, UNESCO Director for Policies and Strategies Guy Berger told UN News earlier this week.
And the scale of the problem, has prompted the UN agency leading the COVID-19 response, the World Health Organization (WHO), to add a “mythbusters” section to its online coronavirus advice pages.
Among the claims it refutes are that drinking potent alcoholic drinks, exposure to high temperatures - or conversely, cold weather - can kill the virus.
“With common cause for common sense and facts, we can defeat COVID-19, and build a healthier, more equitable, just and resilient world”, concluded the Secretary-General.