Volkan Bozkir (General Assembly President) on COVID-19-related misinformation
2 Dec 2020 - Ministers, Distinguished Delegates, Excellencies, Thank you for organising this critical meeting to share best practices on tackling disinformation and misinformation. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought untold suffering to millions. It affected not only our health, but our economies too. And it has hit the most vulnerable the hardest. Aside from the virus and its impacts, another adversary has been plaguing our response: misinformation and disinformation. COVID-19 is a communications crisis. It is not simply a pandemic. It is an “infodemic”. And this has cost lives. Misinformation and disinformation can lead to lack of diagnostic tests, poor observance of public health measures and lack of immunization. We have seen the dangers of misinformation before, including in the response to a disease. The coverage of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine has decreased in some places, due to misinformation about the vaccine. Measles has become resurgent. Misinformation has taken us backwards. Trust in institutions is crucial to ensure credible information is acted upon. People are more likely to turn to less credible alternative sources of information when they do not trust traditional sources. This places a special responsibility on those institutions at the local, national and international levels to act effectively and with integrity. And it supports the need to invest in institutions, including the World Health Organisation, to ensure we are best-placed to address the virus. In a world where we are continually bombarded with information, critical judgement is essential to discern the value and credibility of that information. I welcome the steps taken by Member States and the multilateral system to combat the “infodemic”, and the United Nation’s efforts to counter the scourge of misinformation, stigmatization and harmful health advice and strengthen trust in science. I would like to highlight the work of the WHO, UNESCO and the UN Department of Global Communications, including the TakeCareBeforeYouShare, PledgetoPause and Verified campaigns, which I hope my UN colleague, Mr Nasser, will discuss more later. Member States have also seen the need to act. In General Assembly Resolution 74/306 of 11 September, Member States expressed concern about the spread of disinformation and propaganda and agreed to take steps to counter the spread of misinformation and disinformation online and offline. This followed the World Health Assembly’s resolution on COVID-19 in May and the Cross-Regional Statement on the “infodemic” in the Context of COVID-19 from June. I welcome the organisation of this side-event to discuss best practices for actions to address the spread of misinformation. Can I pay particular thanks to the Republic of Latvia for its leadership on this issue. Ladies and Gentlemen, Misinformation and disinformation are not new concepts or new behaviours. But their existence in the context of COVID-19 has sharpened the risks, as well as our collective resolve to respond. It is clear that to address this issue, joint efforts by multiple stakeholders, including governments, international organizations, academia, and technology and social media companies, are required. Journalists and media workers also have a crucial role in helping the public make informed decisions. Member States must support journalists and media workers so they can do their jobs throughout the pandemic. Excellencies, Given recent developments, it is likely that the world will see several viable vaccines for the COVID-19 pandemic in the coming months. However, these welcome advancements will only help us to overcome the pandemic, if people have confidence to use them. Building vaccine confidence and countering disinformation is in our collective interest. At the United Nations General Assembly special session on COVID-19, starting tomorrow, Member States, the United Nations and key stakeholders will come together to share experiences and lessons learnt from the pandemic, including our experiences countering misinformation. I strongly encourage all stakeholders to continue to work together to address the joint misinformation and disinformation challenge we are facing. Not only to combat this pandemic, but for the long-term health of our societies. I thank you very much for giving me this opportunity to join you in this very important meeting.
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