UN entities partner to strengthen work to counter the COVID-19 infodemic

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The original article was published on the UNESCO website on 8th September 2020.

People worldwide will be better able to spot the difference between information and misinformation about COVID-19, as a result of a new co-operation within the UN system.

“Through combining strengths, we are rolling out a concerted push. Together, this will help to monitor misinformation, and empower people to recognize falsehoods – and at the same time, increase people’s access to accurate information.”

Tim Nguyen, Unit Head for High Impact Events Preparedness,WHO

The co-operation is supported by a grant of $4.5m from the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

The fund was specifically set up to support work to track and understand the spread of the virus; ensure patients get the care they need and frontline workers get essential supplies and information; and accelerate research and development of a vaccine and treatments for all who need them.

The World Health Organization (WHO), through its offices in Africa, is developing an “Infodemic Response Alliance” that will bring together ministries of health, civil society, media, fact checkers and UN actors to ensure early warnings of misinformation. Other WHO activities are planned in the Eastern Mediterranean, European, the Americas, and South East Asia regions.

UN Global Pulse will contribute to the partnership by using artificial intelligence  to analyse radio coverage for trends in misinformation such as  rumours around vaccines, promotions of false cures, and discussions about financial hardships. 

Public discourse on radio includes first-hand accounts of incidents reported by citizens that are not recorded elsewhere. It also includes opinions about the unfolding COVID-19 crisis that are not biased by questions framed by researchers and that reveal personal views not biased by fear of judgement.

UN Global Pulse will apply the radio monitoring technology it developed over the course of the years  to extract insights from countries where radio remains a popular medium.

“We will use this infodemic intelligence to support community level responses and do predictive analytics  to fuel decision making across all pillars of the UN response.”

Miguel Luengo-Oroz, Chief Data Scientist, UN Global Pulse

UNESCO will train journalists and support community radio. Thousands of journalists will be trained for updated reporting on the pandemic and related disinformation through a series of online interactive briefings with experts and mentors. 

UNESCO will also work with partners to produce content for radio channels, particularly in vernacular languages for areas with scarce or no Internet access, with the topic covering preventive measures, debunking myths about the virus, and highlighting the importance of non-discrimination and solidarity.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) will engage mobile network operators to use short message service (SMS) and voice messages to provide healthcare advice. The union plans to share good practices, such as replacing default ringtones with special caller tunes containing voice messages about the virus.

As part of the project, the WHO will create an Infodemic Observatory with the Fondazione Bruno Kessler as well as a suite of scientific tools to manage the infodemic, including through “social listening” and assessing people’s vulnerability to misinformation.

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