The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression summarised the appropriate approach to countering disinformation: ‘The right to freedom of opinion and expression is not part of the problem, it is the objective and the means for combating disinformation.’ ARTICLE 19 believes that holistic and positive measures that are firmly grounded in international human rights law, including the right to freedom of expression, are the best solution.
States should counter disinformation through the following measures:
- First, ensure a diverse, free and independent media environment, with strong protections online and offline for journalists and media workers. The media can facilitate the free flow of information and expose corruption and falsehoods.
- Second, States should implement comprehensive right to information laws, including by complying with the principle of maximum disclosure of information and by proactively releasing information of public interest. Although 90% of the world’s population lives in a country with a right to information law, many of these laws are not properly implemented or fall short of international standards, contributing to the spread of disinformation.
- Third, States should ensure connectivity to an accessible, free, open, reliable and secure Internet and invest in digital, media and information literacy. Where people can access and critically assess news and information online, they are better placed to identify disinformation.
- Fourth, States have the duty to ensure that companies respect human rights. Companies must have clear policies governing disinformation on their platforms in line with international human rights standards.
Any restriction by States of freedom of expression should always adhere strictly to the principles of legality, necessity, proportionality and legitimacy, as set out under international law.
However, many States have responded to disinformation by adopting repressive laws with vague terminology criminalising the spread of so-called ‘false information’, or with Internet shutdowns and other disruptions stopping the free flow of information online. These measures are not only at odds with international human rights, but ultimately erode trust and facilitate the spread of disinformation throughout societies.
At the same time, we have witnessed the rise of politically-motivated, State-sponsored disinformation campaigns, with devastating results for human rights.
States must tackle disinformation with a positive and holistic response, fully embracing the right to freedom of expression.