UN creates global #PledgetoPause to fight disinformation

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António Guterres, United Nations secretary-general.
António Guterres, United Nations secretary-general.

António Guterres, United Nations (UN) secretary-general, has launched the #PledgetoPause campaign, urging people around the world to fight disinformation.

The campaign is part of global efforts that seek to create a new social media rule to help combat the rising impact of viral misinformation.

The #PledgetoPause campaign comes on the back of growing concerns of blatantly false information put into the public domain for purposes of shock value, or to make a quick profit.

The UN says the campaign is based on research that indicates a brief pause significantly lessens the inclination to share shocking or emotive material, thereby slowing the spread of misinformation.

It seeks to increase media literacy to enable social media users to spot misinformation, especially on the COVID-19 virus and stopping themselves from passing it on.

In SA, anyone that creates or spreads fake COVID-19 news is liable for prosecution.

The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies, in collaboration with the Government Communication and Information System and Media Monitoring Africa, introduced a hi-tech monitoring and evaluation process that has been put in place to assess complaints and reports from the media, public and other sectors of society, with the ability to take down fake news items on a range of platforms.

In his message, Guterres warns that disinformation may be deadly, especially as the world deals with the pandemic.

“Take the pledge to pause and help stop the spread of misinformation.”

The campaign aims to reach a global audience of a billion globally, online and through collaborations, by the end of December. Yesterday, throughout the day, online influencers and global voices made their own #PledgetoPause and called on their supporters to do the same.

The #PledgetoPause campaign is part of UN initiative, Verified, launched in May to fight the spread of hate speech and fake news online amid the pandemic.

The Verified initiative has created an army of “digital first responders” responsible for increasing trusted and accurate information surrounding the COVID-19 crisis.

With the #PledgetoPause campaign, the UN wants to mobilise governments, influencers, civil society, businesses and regulators to help curb disinformation.

In Africa, media entities such as pay-TV MultiChoice and Yuvaa have also been enlisted to help distribute the campaign’s messaging.

“COVID-19 is not just a health crisis, but a communications emergency as well. When misinformation spreads, the public loses trust and too often makes decisions that hamper the public response and even their own lives,” says Melissa Fleming, UN under-secretary-general for global communications.

“It is increasingly clear that we cannot successfully tackle the pandemic without also addressing online misinformation. Each and every one of us can help break the chain of misinformation by pausing before we share.”

Fleming notes that individual steps alone will not suppress misinformation, so the UN is working with social media platforms to recommend changes, and has recognised some notable steps to flag or block misinformation and elevate science-based content.

The UN warns the amplification of inaccurate or harmful information and ideas on social media exacerbates some of the most pressing issues the world is facing.

“It foments hate and enables oppressive regimes, twists elections, skews understanding of challenges like climate change, undermines trust in institutions, and exposes children and the vulnerable to dangerous ideas or people,” says Fleming.

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