In our joint statement with other UN and development agencies last week, we called for governments to take stronger action against the infodemic, developing action plans and empowering community actors to tackle the crisis. We have also called for civic actors, including media, civil society and researchers, to work together with the UN and national authorities to develop solutions to this emergent challenge.
While we must demand higher standards, transparency and access from our governments and corporations, the individual also plays a vital role in peacebuilding in our information age. In a world where advanced technologies provide us with unfettered access to mass global communication, we must rely on our conscience when making online decisions that affect our immediate families, communities and nations.
So what can a global citizen do to push back against harmful rhetoric and misinformation online?
1. Help support actors promoting social cohesion online and offline: Civil society organizations helping promote peace are under increasing constraints with COVID-19, as their means to reach communities are curtailed due to social distancing measures, shrinking funding sources and an increased pressure on the civic space. Help support the efforts of peacebuilding organizations, amplify the messages of civic actors promoting peace, and share the work of fact-checking organizations helping to push back against information detrimental to social cohesion under COVID-19.
2. Check before you share: A sizeable portion of the information pollutants shared online regarding COVID-19 are done so with good intentions, where people pass on advice out of concern for safety. The urgency compels many to share information without necessarily verifying it first. Take the extra step to verify the information and assess the impact that sharing it may have on social cohesion.
3. Correct information online: Recent findings by Harvard Shorenstein Center suggests that many people find correcting others on messaging apps as a stressful and unusual activity, so refrain from it. However, the same study finds that corrections from a family member, close friend, and like-minded individual are more likely to be re-shared, suggesting that we all have an ability to make a modest constructive impact among our close circles. Use your voice to push back against online narratives of hate and division online, which are increasingly prolific.
4. Demand higher standards from the platforms that you use: Reach out to the platforms you use and demand they live up to the standards of good online behavior, including refraining from using discriminatory language, checking facts, and leveraging innovative tools for government accountability and transparency.
Marking the International Day for Universal Access to Information, we call upon governments, civic actors, the private sector, and most importantly, citizens everywhere to help develop solutions and contribute to reducing the impact of information pollutants on the fabric of our societies and to help promote social cohesion online and offline.