Information pollution significantly impacts online debates on COVID-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean, UNDP and Constella study warns

Posted March 24, 2022

UNDP in Latin America and the Caribbean has been very active in promoting information integrity through a variety of strategies – from the development of fact-checking capacity in Paraguay, Dominican Republic, and Argentina, to online social listening in Venezuela and Panama; from engagement on information integrity in electoral contexts in Chile, Peru, Honduras, and Ecuador, to partnerships innovative partnership with the media sector and other stakeholders in Uruguay and Bolivia. Photo: Pexel

Panama/New York, 24 March 2022 — The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Constella Intelligence released today a first-of-its-kind joint publication that details some of the key debates that have been unfolding in the online public sphere of Latin America and the Caribbean around COVID-19 and reveals the risks that information pollution poses not only for the effectiveness of the pandemic responses but also for social cohesion and the functioning of governance systems.

The research publication titled, “Exploring COVID-19 online debates and information pollution in Latin America and the Caribbean” found that a significant amount of information pollution is created by repackaging, reframing, and reproducing content produced by mainstream media and that approximately 1.4% of the reviewed content in the region could be classified as information pollution. While the proportion may seem small, it corresponds to half a million

items over four months, which has an outsized impact on vulnerable
audiences. As part of the analysis, UNDP and Constella Intelligence took a deep dive into the significant volume of conversations related to COVID-19, revealing the true nature of online discussions during the pandemic to help identify vulnerabilities and inform strategies to counter the most harmful effects of information pollution.

The analysis explores the public digital sphere in Spanish and English languages from October 2020 to February 2021, capturing 37 million results from 4.4 million profiles across all public platforms including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, media domains, blogs, and other online communities. The report concludes that most of the information pollution originates outside the Latin American and the Caribbean region.

“UNDP has identified information pollution as a key issue that can affect multiple governance and development issues. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the battle against misinformation was already taking shape before COVID-19 and will likely continue to be a matter of significant concern for a long time to come. This report offers relevant insights based on new methods of research and analysis and provides actionable recommendations on how to promote information integrity in the short and long term,” said Luis Felipe López-Calva, UN Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

The document recommends that all short and long-term responses to tackle information pollution should be carried out with human rights at the forefront. It is important that any solutions do not unfairly stigmatize users for legitimate use of the internet or unduly interfere with users’ human rights. To this effect, UNDP is supporting national partners to promote information integrity by strengthening the capacity of public institutions to promote access to reliable and accurate information sources; improving media capacity to effectively manage information pollution; increasing public resilience to information pollution; and developing evidence-based, proportionate and rights-based information integrity policies.

“The research conducted by Constella and the UNDP is a great example of the importance of public-private collaborations delivering insights into global and local trends emerging from the digital public sphere. That joint work is essential to halting the spread of multi-language information pollution. COVID-19 is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Alex Romero, Chief Operating Officer at Constella Intelligence.

The report also urges political leaders, government agencies, media, social media companies, civil society, religious and community leaders, influencers, and personalities to work together to counter information pollution regarding COVID-19, vaccines, and beyond in the region.

“This research is part of a global initiative to improve understanding on disinformation and how it impacts inclusive governance and peacebuilding in the contexts where UNDP operates. The knowledge we get from the report will be used not only in our regional responses but also to inform global policy discussions on the role of disinformation in the global south, which remains poorly understood”, says Arvind Gadgil, Director of UNDP’s Oslo Governance Center.

This initiative was supported and made possible by funding from the Government of Norway. Download the report here to gain insights into key social media trends such as where information pollution originates geographically, how it spreads within and across borders, and which narratives have been propagated most effectively.

Media contacts:

UNDP

New York

Ana María Currea, ana.maria.currea@undp.org cel +1 2023094981

Panama

Vanessa Hidalgo vanessa.hidalgo@undp.org cel + 16463389462

Constella

Jonathan Nelson jonathan.nelson@constellaintelligence.com cel +34 691641092

ABOUT UNDP:

UNDP is the leading United Nations organization fighting to end the injustice of poverty, inequality, and climate change. Working with our broad network of experts and partners in 170 countries, we help nations to build integrated, lasting solutions for people and the planet. Learn more at www.undp.org or follow at @UNDP.

About Constella Intelligence

Constella Intelligence is a global leader in Digital Risk Protection, safeguarding 30M+ global users at some of the world’s largest organizations, including 5 of the top 10 U.S. banks. Our solutions are a unique combination of proprietary data, technology, and human expertise to anticipate, identify, and remediate targeted threats to your people, your brand, and your assets at scale—powered by the most extensive breach and social data collection from the surface, deep and dark web on the planet, with over 100B attributes and 45 billion curated identity records spanning 125 countries and 53 languages.