47th session of the Human Rights Council
Joint statement on the impact of disinformation on human rights
During the Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
( 2 July 2021)
Among the many present-day challenges to human rights, disinformation – the practice of deliberate manufacturing and dissemination of false or manipulated information intended to deceive and mislead audiences, either to cause harm or for personal, political, or financial gain – has particularly far-reaching implications.
Disinformation is a threat to democracy that can suppress political engagement, distort civic discussion, and hinder the realization of the right to participate in public affairs. Carried out through traditional and digital media, disinformation can harm public trust in democratic processes and institutions, exacerbate social division, sow discord and stoke conflict. Disinformation can further marginalize voices from persons belonging to minorities, fracture community cohesion, polarize societies, and incite discrimination, xenophobia, intolerance and violence.
State and state-sponsored actors often use disinformation campaigns as part of hybrid influence operations that can accompany serious violations of international law. In doing so, they cynically exploit the freedom of open societies and hinder freedom of opinion and expression, which includes the right of individuals to seek, receive and impart information.
Online disinformation campaigns often use artificially amplified and targeted technologies that can interfere with the privacy of individuals, drive polarization, and negatively impact the ability to share ideas and information. Digital disinformation poses a challenge given its nature to spread rapidly and widely.
We are concerned by the use of disinformation and malign influence operations that seek to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to undermine the international rules-based order, democracy and human rights, including the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health. Access to factual and accurate information helps people take necessary health precautions, protect vulnerable population groups and save lives.
We recall that human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent, and interrelated. The overarching negative impact of disinformation can affect all human rights – a challenge that should be addressed from a human rights-based perspective.
We call for resolute action aimed at protection and empowerment of rights holders against disinformation on the basis of equality and non-discrimination. Such an effort should be carried out in an inclusive manner involving all relevant parties along with this Council, civil society, academia, multi-stakeholder initiatives, and private companies, with the global technology sector having a crucial role to play, and ensuring an open, reliable, and secure Internet. In this vein, we welcome the attention of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression to challenges related to disinformation and take note of her latest report on the subject for this session.
The primary responsibility lies with us, the states. As principal duty bearers, we commit to support relevant initiatives that strengthen resilience of our societies at all levels, including those that safeguard independent and diverse media, promote digital and media literacy, inter-cultural understanding and fact-checking, as well as transparent and accountable technological solutions. Fighting disinformation cannot justify censorship. All policies or legislation undertaken to counter disinformation must respect human rights and fundamental freedoms in line with international law.
We call on all states to refrain from conducting and sponsoring disinformation campaigns, to condemn such acts, and to address disinformation while fully respecting human rights, and we pledge to do the same.