IMS submits input to UN Special Rapporteur for report on disinformation

IMS has welcomed the opportunity to make a submission to the UN Special Rapporteur, Irene Khan, on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression for her June 2021 Human Rights Council report on the issue of disinformation.

“Our best manoeuvre against disinformation is to fight ferociously for sustainability, accessibility and abundance of quality journalism and to promote media and digital literacy and critical thinking. Whilst the other measures are important too, quality journalism and critical thinking form a cornerstone of the response to disinformation,” says IMS Global Response Head of Department Gulnara Akhundova. 

In contributing to the UN Special Rapporteur’s upcoming annual thematic report for the UN Human Rights Council at its 47th session in June 2021, IMS has pledged to continue to combat disinformation through support for media and digital literacy initiatives. IMS recommends a holistic approach to media and digital literacy for all ages and segments of the population and accordingly calls for the encouragement of public interest media to engage with its audience members to think critically about the information they receive.

In this report, IMS describes how recent global events, from the COVID-19 pandemic to elections from the United States to Uganda, have unfolded the unprecedented impact of disinformation on global order, peace and security of nations and everyday life. As quality journalistic content on the internet continues to find itself on the same playing field as manipulative propaganda, purveyors of disinformation are at a dramatic advantage in their efforts to foster fear, promote populism, cultivate conflict and stoke distrust in truth-focused media.

IMS further recommends that the Special Rapporteur mobilise the international community to adopt a universal definition for disinformation and call for public interest media and media development organisations to take part in its drafting alongside States and digital tech companies. The UN Special Rapporteur notes that disinformation is commonly understood as “false information that is created and spread, deliberately or otherwise, to harm people, institutions and interests”, though there is no agreed universal definition at present.

In pointing to key challenges, IMS highlights televised and radio broadcast disinformation also constitutes a formidable complication as it is more difficult to expose and fact-check, especially when disinformation is presented in real time and opinion is permitted to penetrate the news. This submission holds that it is ultimately the responsibility of news outlets to draw red lines in a manner that protects freedom of expression while remaining true to democratic values.

IMS further recognises the threat of gender-specific and sexualised disinformation often targeted at women to exploit widespread misogyny. Alongside its recommendations that support the replication of Facebook’s third-party fact-checking system, IMS calls for the incorporation of a gendered perspective in the training of third-party fact-checkers engaged in crowdsourcing and creating data sets to identify disinformation.

UN Special Rapporteur Irene Khan is a Bangladeshi lawyer who was appointed to the mandate in August 2020. 

Annually, the Special Rapporteur is required to submit a report to the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly on activities relating to the mandate that contains recommendations to key stakeholders to better promote and protect the right to freedom of opinion and expression in all its manifestations. See the UN Special Rapporteur’s call for submissions on the issue of disinformation.