UNESCO partners with other UN agencies to strengthen the work to counter the COVID-19 infodemic

Hundreds of millions of 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.

For UNESCO, the contribution to the partnership will be in training journalists and supporting 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.

Part of the package will be training on how to operate a home-based radio studio during lockdown.

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.

Besides UNESCO and the WHO, the other UN partners include UN Global Pulse and the ITU (The International Telecommunication Union).

The UN Global Pulse, within the UN Secretary-General’s innovation team, will use artificial intelligence to analyse radio coverage for trends in misinformation such as rumours around vaccines, promotions of false cures, and discussions about financial hardships.  “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,” says Global Pulse’s chief data scientist Miguel Luengo-Oroz.

The ITU will engage with more than200 mobile network operators to use short message service (SMS) and voice messages to provide healthcare advice. “We will also share good practices such as replacing default ringtones with special caller tunes containing voice messages about the virus,” says ITU’s Roman Chestnov.

As part of the project, 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.

The UN’s Health Organization will also initiate a pilot project with Ryerson University in Canada to create a “Global Misinformation and Factchecking Centre”  to serve as a comprehensive public repository of fact-checking organizations around the world  and to identify and document best practices for tackling the COVID-19 infodemic crisis and help to inform future policy interventions. 

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