Countering Disinformation and Promoting Data Transparency

Opening statement delivered by Haoliang Xu, at the 76th UNGA side event- Countering Disinformation and Promoting Data Transparency, UN agencies working together to support Member States in times of COVID-19 and beyond.

Posted September 27, 2021

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Information pollution is a hard-to-fix problem, for which there is no easy solution. And yet its impacts are deeply worrisome, particularly the way in which it erodes trust in democratic governance, processes and institutions and exacerbates existing conflicts and divides.

Information pollution is a potent catalyser of mistrust and division, undermining the social contract, sometimes to explosive effect. The sense of urgency is clear in the UN Secretary General’s “Common Agenda” report, which identifies the large-scale spread disinformation and undermining scientifically established facts as an “existential risk to humanity”.

To counter this “existential risk” we firstly need to invest in responses that are preventive. In the last 12 months, UNDP has engaged in numerous contexts where political crises have erupted into violence, more often than not stoked by disinformation and hate speech.

Managing information pollution in crisis is an almost impossible task when governments, media and citizens are not prepared for it.  We must learn from member states that have invested in the social, political, and legislative conditions that build public resilience to disinformation.

Promoting government accountability and transparency, independent public service media, rights-based regulation, and public internet literacy is surely a powerful preventive approach.  This way we can restore public trust in governments and media, create effective sanctions against disinformation and foster critical thinking amongst citizens.

UNDP congratulates UNESCO and WHO for initiating important and productive discussions across many UN entities, and I hope that this conversation sparks new insights and solutions to this challenge. 

Managing information pollution in crisis is an almost impossible task when governments, media and citizens are not prepared for it. We must learn from member states that have invested in the social, political, and legislative conditions that build public resilience to disinformation.

Haoliang Xu, UN Assistant Secretary General and Director of UNDP's Bureau for Policy and Programme Support