Faced with an overwhelming volume of information, the public has the almost impossible task of determining what to believe. The intentional and unintentional dissemination of misleading, inflammatory and false information is heightening fear and confusion, leading to high-risk behaviors, and driving acts of violence and stigmatization. As such, UNDP has a critical role to play through its mandate to promote informed, inclusive societies, respect for human rights and protection of vulnerable populations.
Strands of information pollution
Information pollution describes three different ways information can be misleading. Namely;
1. Disinformation is false and deliberately created to harm a person, social group, organization or country.
2. Misinformation is false, but not created with the intention of causing harm.
3. Mal-information is based on real facts, but manipulated to inflict harm on a person, organization or country.
Since 2020, the Oslo Governance Centre has focused its attention on combating information pollution. The recent Covid-19 pandemic saw a surge in information pollution relating to Covid-19, endangering people’s health and undermining governments and health systems’ capacities. To offer immediate support to UNDP country offices globally, OGC has created a Guidance Note on information pollution outlining rapid responses and long-term strategies. Furthermore, a 6-part webinar series called in experts to shed light on the Covid-19 situation, how to utilize digital tools against information pollution, fact-checking initiatives, and supporting press freedom. This unique meeting space allowed OGC’s technical experts to consult country offices individually for follow-up support on information pollution.
The issue of information pollution has existed for centuries and will continue to pose new threats against societies. When public trust in democratic institutions, including mainstream media, is at a historic low, this amplifies the influence of rumors, informal news sources, and fringe journalism. OGC will continue to support countries to deal with the challenges of information pollution, and continuously work to enlighten and tackle new ways information is polluted.