UN Secretary General warns : Threats to information integrity are proliferating and expanding with unprecedented speed on digital platforms

Secretary-General’s opening remarks at press conference to launch the Global Principles for Information Integrity

António Guterres

Good afternoon, distinguished members of the media.

The spread of hatred and lies online is causing grave harm to our world.

Misinformation, disinformation and hate speech are fueling prejudice and violence; exacerbating divisions and conflicts; demonizing minorities; and compromising the integrity of elections.

Today, I am pleased to present a starting point for solutions: the United Nations Global Principles for Information Integrity.

These five principles – [societal] trust and resilience; independent, free, and pluralistic media; healthy incentives; transparency and research; and public empowerment – are based on an overriding vision of a more humane [information] ecosystem.

They call for an information environment that champions human rights and a sustainable future.

And they provide a solid foundation for sustainable, inclusive development, climate action, democracy, and peace.

Dear members of the media,

Threats to information integrity are not new, but they are proliferating and expanding with unprecedented speed on digital platforms, supercharged by AI technologies.

Science, facts, human rights, public health and climate action are under attack.

And when information integrity is targeted, so is democracy – which depends on a shared, fact-based perception of reality.

False narratives, distortions and lies breed cynicism, disbelief and disengagement. They undermine social cohesion, putting the Sustainable Development Goals further out of reach.

Opaque algorithms push people into information bubbles and reinforce prejudices including racism, misogyny and discrimination of all kinds.

Women, refugees, migrants, and minorities are common targets.

Activists, advocates, researchers, scientists, and leaders are harassed and humiliated.

The damage goes far beyond the digital realm, affecting billions of people who are not connected to the internet.

Lives are at stake when lies are spread about vaccines and other medical issues.

The United Nations’ own operations and missions are compromised, as our staff deal with a tsunami of falsehoods and absurd conspiracy theories.

Distinguished members of the media, dear friends,

The United Nations Global Principles for Information Integrity are the result of broad consultations with Member States, with youth leaders, academia, civil society, the private sector including tech companies, and you – the media.

Those consultations showed that much of the world shares our deep concern and is searching for solutions.

The Global Principles lay out a clear path forward, firmly rooted in human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and opinion.

I urge governments, the tech sector, and other stakeholders to listen to your people and your customers – and to respond.

Some stakeholders carry an outsized responsibility. For them, I have a clear message: We demand action.

First, to the big tech companies – take responsibility. Acknowledge the damage your products are inflicting on people and communities.

You have the power to mitigate harm to people and societies around the world.

You have the power to change business models that profit from disinformation and hate.

Second, to advertisers and the PR industry:

Stop monetizing harmful content.

Strengthen information integrity; protect your brand; boost your bottom line.

The climate crisis is a cause of particular concern. Coordinated disinformation campaigns are seeking to undermine climate action.

Creatives – don’t use your talents to greenwash.

PR agencies – look for clients who aren’t misleading people and destroying our planet.

Third, my message to media outlets is:

Raise and enforce editorial standards.

Do your part to safeguard our future by providing quality journalism based on facts and reality.

Find advertisers who are part of the solution, not the problem.

And finally, I say to governments:

Commit to creating and maintaining a free, viable, independent, and plural media landscape.

Guarantee strong protections for journalists.

Ensure regulations uphold human rights.

Refrain from drastic measures, including blanket internet shutdowns.

Respect the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Let me be very clear:

Everyone should be able to express themselves freely without fear of attack.

Everyone should be able to access a range of views and information sources.

No one should be at the mercy of an algorithm they don’t control, which was not designed to safeguard their interests, and which tracks their behaviour to collect personal data and keep them hooked.

Dear members of the media,

These principles aim to empower people to demand their rights.

They support parents, anxious for their children.

Young people, whose future relies on information integrity.

Civil society and academia, who are pushing for change.

And public interest media, striving to convey reliable and accurate information.

The UN hears your calls for guidance and support.

Don’t lose heart – raise your voices.

Demand accountability; demand choice; demand control.

You are the majority. And this is a fight we can win – together.

Thank you.

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