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Free Media, Digital Literacy – Antidote To Disinformation, Says UN Expert

GENEVA (1 July 2021) – Responses by States and
companies to disinformation have been problematic,
inadequate and detrimental to human rights, a UN expert
warned today, calling on States to uphold the right to
freedom of expression as the primary means by which to fight

“Diverse and reliable information,
digital literacy, smart social media regulation and free,
independent and diverse media are the obvious antidote to
disinformation,” Irene Khan, the Special Rapporteur on the
promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion
and expression, told the Human Rights

“Disinformation – responses to it – are
undermining freedom of expression, polarizing public
debates, fueling public distrust and endangering human
rights, democratic institutions, public health and
sustainable development,” said Khan.

“States have
resorted to disproportionate measures such as Internet
shutdowns and vague and overly broad laws to criminalize,
block, censor and chill online speech and shrink civic
space, and to compel social media platforms to remove lawful
content without judicial process.”

In her report, the
Special Rapporteur warned that these measures are
incompatible with international law and are being used
against journalists, political opponents and human rights
defenders with impunity.

She said algorithms, targeted
advertising and the data harvesting practices of the largest
social media companies are largely credited with driving
users towards “extremist” content and conspiracy
theories, undermining the right of individuals to form an
opinion and to freely develop beliefs and

“Company responses to disinformation have
been largely reactive, insufficient and opaque,” said

“Social media companies should review their
business models and ensure that their business operations,
data collection and data processing practices are compliant
with international human rights standards,” said the
Special Rapporteur.

Khan also expressed concerns about
inconsistent content moderation, opaque policies and
processes and inadequate transparency and redress mechanisms
of social media platforms, and called for urgent and
effective action by companies.

She warned that “old
ingrained sexist attitudes with the anonymity and reach of
social media” were being used to launch gendered
disinformation campaigns against women journalists,
politicians and human rights defenders to push them out of
public life. She called on States and companies to ensure
the safety of women online and offline.

Calling for
the proactive engagement of States, companies, international
organizations, civil society and the media, Irene Khan
concluded, “Tackling disinformation requires
multidimensional multi-stakeholder responses that are
well-grounded in the full range of human


The Expert:
Ms Irene Khan was appointed
Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the
right to freedom of opinion and expression
on 17
July 2020. Ms Khan is the first woman to hold this position
since the establishment of the mandate in 1993. She teaches
at the Graduate Institute of International and Development
Studies in Geneva, and was previously Secretary General of
Amnesty International from 2001 to 2009 and head of the
International Development Law Organization (IDLO) from 2012

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