A Wartime Case for Information Integrity

22 October 2023// Melissa Fleming, Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications at United Nations

We are living through bewildering times. Once again, the fog of war is driving the spread of hate and lies online — resulting in dangerous errors with real-time, real-world consequences. The case for information integrity has rarely been more compelling, or more urgent.

We’ve been here before. Just as in the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, demand for information is sky-high. Minute by minute, we’re glued to social media, checking for updates on the violence in Gaza and Israel. Horrified and anxious, we can’t look away.

The United Nations is intensely focused on the dire humanitarian situation and the plight of all civilians in need. Secretary General Antonio Guterres is urging unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access to Gaza and the immediate and unconditional release of Israeli hostages.

And we’re raising the alarm on another problem- a big one. Related hate speech, mis- and disinformation — already rampant — is flooding social media feeds, warping perceptions, and risking further violence. In this context especially, hate lands on fertile ground.

The problem is largely structural. Digital platforms are a double-edged sword in times like these. On one hand, they are invaluable news-gathering tools, bringing us agonizingly close to events in real time and helping brave reporters and citizen journalists bear witness to the human cost of war.

But the same platforms are equally deceptive — as all journalists and fact-checkers know. Social media has long been a useful tool for anyone wanting to spread false, hateful, or incendiary messages. Disinformation actors are masters at exploiting most platforms’ business models — attention-grabbing algorithms that boost provocative content to drive engagement.

That means that when news breaks, verifying video, images and audio circulating online becomes a central task of all good newsrooms. In the fog of war, with emotions high and deception in the air, that task gets harder than ever.