Free expression organisations have a number of issues to concern themselves with in a global pandemic – the wellbeing of writers in prison, the infringements of government legislation on personal freedoms and human rights, the ways in which discourse of infection might manifest themselves in hate speech or acts.
However, alongside the current global pandemic, runs another contagion which concerns writers organisations, governments and citizens-alike: the spread of disinformation.
In the current circumstances disinformation is not only harmful to planned containment measures and public-uptake of government of World Health Organisation advice, it is also a threat to life.
In fact, the WHO has already referred to an ‘infodemic’ around the virus with theories abounding on social media and beyond espousing bleach or garlic as cures for the virus and speculating on potential causes for the outbreak.
As part of their work around COVID-19, Article 19 are seeking to tackle disinformation.
Acting Executive Director Quinn McKew said: ‘The spread of COVID-19 across the globe has been matched by the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories about the virus.
‘We have also seen some states attempt to stifle media reporting on the spread of the virus and use repressive legislation to arrest people who are sharing information about it.’
She went on that responsibility lay with governments, the media and media companies to ensure that they was full transparency in the reporting and management of the crisis.
She said that: ‘Independent media, ethical journalism, citizen reporting, open public discourse and the free flow of information are indispensable in the global effort to counter COVID-19.’
The WHO has already launched the WHO Information Network for Epidemics, which is working with platforms such as Facebook, Tiktok, Google, Baidu, Weibo and Pintrest to try to foreground ‘accurate information from trusted sources’.
Article 19 views the combatting of this fake news as an essential part of its campaigning around free expression and accurate reporting.
In early March it released clear warnings to governments, the media and social media about their handling of information around the outbreak.
However, Article 19 wanted to call on governments to ensure that accurate reporting of the crisis was not impeded, that transparent and trustworthy information was available widely.
It also called on journalists and the media to ensure that reporting was fair and impartial and included a right to reply and on social media companies to continue to work with the WHO and to ensure that processes to tackle disinformation or hate speech remained clear and easily understood.