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Tackle Disinformation within the framework of Human Rights

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

Asli from Vision Factory

Author: Aslı Türkmen

Date of Publication: 02/03/2023

Disinformation is the deliberate spread of incorrect or misleading information. In recent years, the rapidly developing digital technology age has increased the accessibility, speed and ease of knowledge, and the ghost of disinformation has been used especially by politicians and public figures for its own favor and interests, so society is dragged into insecurity.

Disinformation, Human Rights, public figures, society, Human Rights Issue, Misinformation, fake news

It is our right to know the facts in the society we live in, and our right should not be destroyed. For this reason, we need to deal with disinformation in a way that we should respect rather than weakening human rights. To do this, we need to pay attention to how the phenomenon makes it affects human rights better, and how to fight against disinformation from the perspective of human rights against disinformation.

Why Disinformation is a Human Rights Issue

Disinformation is a problem for human rights because, simply put, it can undermine a wide variety of human rights. Such as the right to free and fair elections, the right to health, the right to be protected from unlawful attacks on one's dignity and reputation, and the right to non-discrimination.

Human Rights Perspective To Tackling Misinformation and Disinformation

Disinformation, Human Rights, public figures, society, Human Rights Issue, Misinformation, fake news

In the age of technology, it is very difficult to easily delete and censor false and misleading information. Solutions such as censorship, punitive laws, blocking of internet access, closure of media outlets are an attack on journalists, human rights defenders and others expressing their views. Restricting the free expression of information and ideas is not only against international human rights law, but also against international human rights law. In fact, this is only because censorship and strict regulation of the exercise of the right to freedom of expression increase distrust of the authorities, leading people to seek “alternatives”.

Restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, which impose various prohibitions on the dissemination of information, including vague concepts such as “false news”, are contrary to international human rights law. As stated by the UN Human Rights Committee, international law does not allow for any impediment to the expression of a wrong view or misinterpretation of events.

The law, which prohibits and criminalizes "fake news", may lead to self-censorship practices out of fear of retaliation and alienation of the public and media. According to the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of expression, such restrictions are often applied not to promote accurate information, but to actually use the situation as a justification to censor relevant information that angers the government or to suppress opposition.

Disinformation, Human Rights, public figures, society, Human Rights Issue, Misinformation, fake news

Rather than censorship, human rights offer states a different way to reduce the amount and impact of false and misleading information. States should promote the right to freedom of expression and ensure that individuals and groups, including journalists and other civil society actors, can exchange information. It should create an environment where divergent views can be expressed and debated, enabling them to discuss ways to solve social problems, hold governments accountable and defend human rights, disprove misinformation and challenge propaganda.

Public figures have a significant impact on mitigating the effects of disinformation, hence it is crucial that they refrain from making, endorsing, encouraging, or spreading remarks that they know to be inaccurate or misleading. Public officials should be careful to transmit accurate and trustworthy information, even on topics of public interest, as international experts on the right to freedom of expression emphasize.

International human rights mechanisms have also recommended that government officials establish a reliable and fast system of accurate information to cause confidence in the general public.

In order for the public to have this trust, the public must have access to all available information without restrictions. The government can do this by disseminating and providing more reliable and evidence-based information for its people.

In order to combat misinformation and propaganda, states must actively support an independent and diversified media landscape. This is part of their duty to create an environment that supports freedom of expression. Experts on freedom of expression from around the world and in specific regions identified a set of requirements and overarching principles in 2017 that States should put into practice to combat false information.

Disinformation, Human Rights, public figures, society, Human Rights Issue, Misinformation, fake news

Independent experts have noted that it is the responsibility of States to foster an atmosphere that supports freedom of expression while also permitting the free exchange of ideas. The government and those in positions of authority can serve as watchdogs in this regard. In order to serve the interests of the general public and to establish and uphold high journalistic standards, it also mandates that States guarantee the existence of independent and well-resourced public service media.

Experts also recommended States to make investments in media, information, and digital literacy to provide people the critical thinking abilities they need to distinguish between verifiable and unverifiable information. They also proposed that a better method to guarantee open, honest, and ongoing contact with the people may be to include this subject in the national school curriculum.

Governments must also make sure that no barriers stand in the way of people exercising their right to free expression. In this regard, the government must stop providing incentives for the spread of information that could result in prejudice, antagonism, and hatred. Any allowed restriction on the right to free speech must, in any case, adhere to all general rules. Even if statements are shocking, provocative, or obnoxious, they do not constitute hate advocacy and should not be subject to criminal penalties or any other restrictions that violate the standards of lawfulness, necessity, and proportionality.

Governments should make sure businesses do not abuse their freedom of speech. Governments should avoid designating corporations as the jurisdictions for content that enhances corporate judgment on human rights principles to the cost of users in order to safeguard the right to freedom of speech. States in this situation should defend the idea that agents are not obligated by the Manila Principles on Agent Liability to substantively assess the legality of third-party content. Nonetheless, businesses engaged in policing online material uphold their human rights obligations by increasing transparency, overseeing and operating their platforms' algorithmic systems that govern content moderation, and undertaking due diligence to verify that human rights are upheld in practice.

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