UN launches new campaign to counter misinformation

The United Nations launched a new campaign to counter, by fostering personal behavior change, the growing threat of misinformation online, particularly with regard to COVID-19.

The campaign, called Pause, asks digital users to take the time to think about what they are about to share before posting it online.

“Misinformation is spreading faster than the virus itself, and is seriously disrupting public health efforts by dangerously distorting sound scientific guidance. It is designed to exploit our emotions and biases at a time of heightened fear,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a press release on Tuesday, Xinhua news agency reported.

“But there are ways users can learn to recognize bad information and slow the spread. We are aiming to have the phrase, ‘Pause, take care before you share,’ become a new public norm.”

A range of media companies around the world, including Al Jazeera, Deutsche Welle, Euronews, France Medias Monde, MultiChoice Africa and StarTimes, are distributing Pause content on TV channels, online and via SMS, said the press release.

Major social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Google (YouTube) and TikTok, have also committed to promoting Pause, while indicating a willingness to scale up their ongoing efforts to suppress the circulation of misinformation, it said.

“It is encouraging to see steps already taken by social media platforms, such as swiftly removing misinformation surrounding COVID-19, flagging harmful content, questioning sharing intentions and also promoting sound health advice, including from the World Health Organization,” said Melissa Fleming, UN undersecretary-general for global communications.

“Just as social distancing slows the spread of the virus, behavior changes around sharing will go a long way to slow the spread of misinformation. But it can only be meaningfully halted if there is no place for misinformation on social media platforms.”

Pause draws on research from psychologists, neuroscientists and behavioral scientists whose studies indicate that pausing to reflect before sharing can significantly help reduce the spread of unverified and misleading information. The campaign will challenge people to break the habit of sharing shocking or emotive content impulsively and without questioning its accuracy.

The campaign, launched on Tuesday to coincide with Social Media Day, is part of a larger UN initiative called Verified.

Verified, launched in May, aims to increase the volume and reach of trusted and accurate information, with the help of information volunteers.

Fleming said Monday that more than 10,000 people have signed up for the Verified initiative as volunteers — a number growing about 10 percent a week.

By mid-June, more than 130 UN member states had endorsed the initiative, showing their concern about the “infodemic” related to COVID-19.