UN launches new initiative to fight COVID-19 misinformation through ‘digital first responders’

21 May 2020

A new UN initiative aims to push back against the tide of lies and hate that has risen in tandem with the COVID-19 pandemic, by empowering people worldwide to share accurate information to help save lives and promote global solidarity.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Thursday launched Verified, which will create a cadre 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”, the UN chief said.

“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.”

Science, solidarity and support

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 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 encouraged to sign up as “information volunteers” with Verified, 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 optimized 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.

Misinformation hampering response, fomenting unrest

Verified will be led by the UN’s Department of Global Communications, which is home to UN News.  

It is a collaboration with Purpose, one of the world’s leading social mobilization organizations, and is supported by the IKEA Foundation and Luminate.

Melissa Fleming, who heads the UN communications department, observed that in many countries, misinformation spread via digital channels 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 added.

“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.”

 

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