MANILA - The United Nations is calling for "information volunteers" as it launches "Verified," an initiative to combat the growing scourge of coronavirus misinformation by increasing the volume and reach of trusted, accurate information.
"We cannot cede our virtual spaces to those who traffic in lies, fear and hate," UN Secretary General António Guterres said in a press release Friday.
"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," he added.
Called "digital first responders," UN information volunteers will receive daily verified content with simple and compelling messaging and optimized for digital and social media that either directly counter misinformation or fill an information void, which they could share to keep families and communities safe and connected.
Led by the UN Department for Global Communications, Verified will provide information around three themes: science – to save lives; solidarity – to promote local and global cooperation; and solutions – to advocate for support to affected populations.
It will also promote recovery packages that tackle the climate crisis and address the root causes of poverty, inequality and hunger.
"Fiction is often circulating faster than facts and it is endangering public health response and ultimately it is endangering people’s lives. Purveyors of misinformation are creating storylines and slick content that are filling information void where science has no answers. They offer promises of cures that have no evidence of benefit and may even be harmful. They are savvy about using narratives that link to people’s fears and appeal to people’s need for answers or need to find a culprit,” Melissa Fleming, UN Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, said.
"Unfortunately, in the algorithm-driven social media era, the popularity of a post often has more influence over who sees it that whether it is factual. So the social media platforms have committed to taking down or are putting up warnings about dubious information and are even guiding people to the WHO’s website or websites of the national health authorities, but we believe this is not enough, particularly because the most pernicious information and conspiracy content spreads via messaging apps peer-to-peer, spreading online in some cases even faster than the virus," she added.
No details were given as to how information volunteers could sign up but the UN said it would partner with influencers, civil society, business and media organizations to distribute trusted and accurate content and work with social media platforms to root out hate and harmful assertions about COVID-19.
For the initiative, UN partnered with Purpose, one of the world's leading social mobilization organizations. The campaign is supported by IKEA Foundation, Luminate and First Draft News.
More than 5.1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases have been reported around the world, according to the Johns Hopkins University's Center for Systems Science and Engineering. More than 330,000 have died, almost 95,000 of whom are from the United States.
As of noontime May 21, the Philippines has recorded 13,434 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 846 deaths. It has conducted around 250,000 tests so far.
In March, Philippine lawmakers enacted the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act, which gives the President additional powers to address the crisis and also punishes those behind spreading false information about the coronavirus pandemic if it is meant "to promote chaos, panic, anarchy, fear, or confusion."
Some observers, however, point out this law has been used to go after critics of the Philippine government.