False information, rumors and fabricated news have been spreading like wildfire in social media since the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world. Cambodia has not been immune to this “infodemic”, which consists of an excess of information related to the virus flooding the internet and therefore, making it difficult for the public to access the right information that they need to stay healthy and safe.
To address this phenomenon, UNESCO, as the UN specialized agency for the protection of free flow of ideas and information, has invited five Cambodian artists and celebrities to jointly guide the public in navigating the information overload on the internet by encouraging critical thinking and responsible engagement with media.
Since the initiative was launched at the beginning of June 2020, over 300,000 Cambodian social media users have engaged with UNESCO’s campaign and learned how to access the right information and discard false and fabricated news about Covid-19, through the tips and advice promoted by their idols. The top selling band Small World Small Band, reminds their followers that “Not all information you find on the internet is true. Only trust reports that have been confirmed by multiple sources or that come from reputable health experts”. Suzanna Reth, with over 800,000 followers in Facebook, warns her fans of the dangers of sharing information that is not true: “If it is not from an official source or a reputable fact checked media house, it is not trustworthy, do not share it”. Along the same lines, the singer, model and actress Shin Yubin highlighted in a video posted in her social media accounts the importance of checking the facts before sharing any information. A video-message from the indie music singer Sin Setsochhata posted in Facebook is clear: “when in doubt, check with the local health authorities”.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also triggered episodes of discrimination towards certain ethnic groups and nationalities. The singer Chet Kanhchna sent this powerful video-message to her folowers: “according to science, the virus does not care about the color of your skin, your gender, your social class, or anything else. So, let’s stop listening to stereotype-based fake news and standup against discrimination”.
The initiative, is part of UNESCO’s campaign #DontGoViral which was initially launched in Africa to crowdsource culturally relevant information in local languages to facilitate awareness-raising about how to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. Thanks to the partnership established with the communication firm Havas Champagne, Cambodia has become the first country in the Asia-Pacific Region to join this global movement.
Promoting access to truthful and timely information and building the capacities of the public to consume and share media content critically, are at the core of UNESCO’s mandate and work globally. In the current context of the Covid-19 crisis, this endeavor has become more relevant than ever before, as access to information has become a life or death matter. In Cambodia, in addition to the #DontGoViral campaign, UNESCO is stepping up its efforts to build further the capacities of media professionals and authorities in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic while ensuring that Freedom of Expression and the Right to Information are safeguarded.