05-05-2020

Misinformation “Fake News” amid the COVID 19 Pandemic

Ever since COVID 19 has emerged and spread around the world, there has been a great demand for reliable and valid information to guide actions ranging from medical treatment, emergency response policy, preventive measures, length and scope of the crisis, and individual action to protect oneself from the virus. 

Scientists and researchers around the world have been working non-stop to study the virus in order to provide reliable information to advise national policy-makers and suggest response measures. At the same time, taking advantage of the high demand for knowledge, an enormous amount of disinformation and fake news has also emerged, which has flooded the web and social media, and resulted in deleterious consequences for an effective response to the COVID 19 pandemic. 

The type of misinformation circulated is greatly varied and includes examples such as promoting home remedies falsely claiming to be effective against COVID 19, conspiracy theories about the origin and cause of the virus (i.e. 5g technology, human made bioweapon, etc.), false claims that the virus is only as harmful as a common flu, false projections about the efficacy of certain drugs or experimental vaccines, anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, and misrepresenting government responses for political gain, among others. 

Misinformation is also prevalent as part of the global political realm. A recent report published by the EU claims that deliberate misinformation campaigns, sponsored by foreign powers  are intentionally directed at EU member states. However, an investigation into this report has also shown that earlier drafts of this same report were even more critical of these powers, but that the text had been softened in its final publication due to foreign diplomatic pressure

Fringe political movements, such as far-right groups, have also been utilizing misinformation and fake news to further spread distrust in public institutions.

Technology companies have been under pressure to do their part to stop the spread of fake news and misinformation. As a result, WhatsApp restricted its message forwarding function, YouTube is ramping up its detection and deletion of false information videos, and Facebook has announced that it will inform its users when exposed to false information about COVID 19

The United Nations and the World Health Organisation have underscored the severity of this problem. UN Secretary General has stated that a “global ‘misinfo-demic’ is spreading” and called for greater trust in institutions that are grounded in evidence-based governance and leadership, and announced that the UN will “flood the internet with facts and science”.  

WHO has created an Information Network for Epidemics (EPI-WIN), which tracks disinformation campaigns, and also analyses large amount of digital data to understand the concerns expressed by millions of people, in order to proactively fill the knowledge gap with scientific evidence before the false information has the opportunity to provide misguided advice. 

Europol has published a set of guidelines to help individuals to identify fake news, and encourages people to not engage with such material, to report fake news posts to the social media platforms and to contribute to sharing of official information from trustworthy sources. 

From a legislative perspective, countries are also rushing to fill in the gaps in their laws in order to address the issue of fake news. As an example in the PAM region, the Moroccan government is currently discussing, before submitting it to the Parliament, a draft law to fight fake news and cybercrime, without prejudice to the freedom of digital communication, and to closer align its legislative framework to international standards, such as indicated in the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime

Enacting legal measures against fake news poses a challenge to lawmakers to find the right balance between addressing the problem of dangerous misinformation and, at the same time, guaranteeing essential freedoms of expression, which are at the cornerstone of a democratic society. Within this unprecedented situation, re-enforced inter-parliamentary cooperation, to share legislative experiences on this issue, is recognized as a valid tool of parliamentary diplomacy to promote harmonisation of laws, especially in light of the borderless nature of the online world. As countries attempt to loosen their lockdown measures and move on to phase two of their pandemic response plans, both policymakers and people are in need of reliable, accurate and scientifically proven information, in order to ensure trust in and compliance of the measures adopted, the maximum safety, while cautiously resuming economic and social activities. 

To support its constituency, PAM has taken a proactive approach to reinforce its cooperation and information exchange with key actors on global scene. These include the World Health Organisation; economic and productive institutions (i.e. ILO, World Trade Organization, World Bank, OECD; World Travel and Tourism Council, World Travel Organisation); and security (i.e. Europol and NATO South Hub); and the members of its Academic Platform to sustain regional cooperation.//

MEDIA INFORMATION: 20/2020

issued on 05/05/2020

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