Launch of the “Verified” initiative – Press Conference (21 May 2020)

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Virtual press conference by Melissa Fleming, Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications on the launch of the “Verified” initiative.

The United Nations on Thursday launched Verified, an initiative to combat the growing scourge of COVID-19 misinformation by increasing the volume and reach of trusted, accurate information.

Melissa Fleming, who heads the UN communications department, observed that in many countries, misinformation spread via digital channels is impeding pandemic response and stirring unrest.

“Fiction is often circulating faster than facts and it is endangering public health response and ultimately it is endangering people’s lives,” said Fleming. “Purveyors of misinformation are creating storylines and slick content that are filling information void where science has no answers. They offer promises of cures that has no evidence of benefit and may even be harmful. They are savvy about using narratives that link to people’s fears and appeal to people’s need for answers or need to find a culprit.”

Under Verified, information will be provided around three themes: science – to save lives; solidarity – to promote local and global cooperation; and solutions – to advocate for support for populations that have been impacted by COVID-19.

“Unfortunately, in the algorithm-driven-social-media era, the popularity of a post often has more influence over who sees it that whether it is factual,” said Fleming. “The social media platforms have committed to taking down or are putting up warnings about dubious information and are even guiding people to the WHO’s website or websites of the national health authorities, but we believe this is not enough, particularly because the most pernicious information and conspiracy content spreads via messaging apps peer-to-peer, spreading online in some cases even faster than the virus.”

People across the world are encouraged to sign up as “information volunteers” with Verified, to share trusted content to keep their families and communities safe and connected.

The volunteers – described as “digital first responders” – will receive a daily feed of verified content that will be optimized for sharing on social media platforms, containing simple yet compelling messaging that either directly counters misinformation with facts, or fills in any gaps.

Verified will partner with UN agencies and others, including influencers, civil society, business and media organizations, to distribute trusted, accurate content, while also working with social media platforms to root out hate and harmful information about COVID-19.

“We are partnering also with an organization called “First Draft News” that is closely monitoring the spread of misinformation and where is coming from and we will prioritize audiences that are receiving this misinformation and sharing it as well. But we will also focus our content on support for vulnerable populations and countries through content that is also focused on inspiring people through stories of the best of humanity as well as opportunities to build back better, in line with the SDGs and the Paris Agreement,” said Fleming.

The initiative is also supported by the IKEA Foundation and Luminate.