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Turning point for the Internet? UN announces global framework to fight online misinformation, hate speech

Erosion of information integrity compromises the UN's missions and priorities, including peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts, says United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres

By Preetha Banerjee

June 25, 2024

Credits @FFHR.CZ

The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres unveiled the Global Principles for Information Integrity, a comprehensive framework aimed at addressing the escalating threats posed by misinformation, disinformation, and hate speech in the digital realm, on June 24, 2024. 

Emphasising the necessity of safeguarding human rights, Guterres underscored the urgent need for a coordinated international response to make online spaces safer and more humane.

A growing threat

In his address, Guterres highlighted the profound impact of harmful information on global stability. The unchecked proliferation of false narratives, he stated, is not only fuelling conflict but also undermining democracy, human rights, public health, and climate action.

With the advent of advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies, these threats are becoming more severe, particularly affecting vulnerable groups such as children.

"The United Nations Global Principles for Information Integrity aim to empower people to demand their rights," Guterres declared, adding:

At a time when billions of people are exposed to false narratives, distortions, and lies, these principles lay out a clear path forward, firmly rooted in human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and opinion.

The Secretary-General's appeal extends to governments, technology companies, advertisers and the public relations industry, urging them to take responsibility for the spread and monetisation of harmful content. He stressed that the erosion of information integrity compromises the UN's missions and priorities, including peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts. A recent UN staff survey revealed that 80% of respondents believe harmful information endangers them and the communities they serve.

Comprehensive recommendations

The Global Principles for Information Integrity were developed through extensive consultations with Member States, the private sector, youth leaders, media, academia, and civil society. The principles aim to create healthier and safer information environments that uphold human rights and promote peaceful societies and a sustainable future. Key recommendations include:

  1. Combating disinformation and hate speech: All stakeholders, including governments, tech companies, advertisers, and media, should avoid using, supporting, or amplifying disinformation and hate speech for any purpose.

  1. Promoting media freedom: Governments should ensure timely access to information, maintain a free, viable, independent, and plural media landscape, and provide strong protections for journalists, researchers, and civil society.

  1. Enhancing tech company responsibilities: Technology companies should incorporate safety and privacy by design in all products, apply policies consistently across countries and languages, and give particular attention to groups often targeted online. Additionally, they should prioritise crisis response and support information integrity during elections.

  1. Ethical AI development: AI developers must take immediate, inclusive, and transparent measures to ensure AI applications are designed, deployed, and used ethically and safely, upholding human rights.

  1. Reforming business models: Tech companies should explore business models that do not rely on programmatic advertising and prioritise human rights, privacy, and safety. Users should have greater control over their online experiences and personal data.

  1. Transparency in advertising: Advertisers should demand transparency in digital advertising processes to ensure their budgets do not inadvertently fund disinformation or hate and do not undermine human rights.

  1. Data transparency and accountability: Tech companies and AI developers should ensure meaningful transparency, allow researchers and academics access to data while respecting user privacy, commission independent audits, and co-develop accountability frameworks.

  1. Protecting children: Special measures should be taken to protect and empower children, with governments providing resources for parents, guardians, and educators.

The seeds for the Global Principles for Information Integrity were sown in the 2021 UN report Our Common Agenda, which envisioned future global cooperation and multilateral action. These principles will serve as a vital resource for Member States ahead of the upcoming Summit of the Future in September, where further discussions on global cooperation are expected to take place.

The launch of the Global Principles for Information Integrity marks a critical step towards addressing the complex challenges posed by the digital information landscape, advocating for a united and principled approach to safeguarding human rights and maintaining the integrity of information worldwide.


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