UN chief calls for new era of social media integrity in bid to stem misinformation (2) Universal access and empowerment to differentiate

13 June, 2023

I look forward to discuss this report with you here on HIFA. The news item is here:


and the full report is here:


Here are some comments from me for your consideration:

This report is welcome, particularly in its call for 'Member States should ensure public access to accurate, transparent, and credibly sourced government information'. However, this recommendation would be stronger if it were linked more explicitly with human rights. HIFA and the New York Law School have previously demonstrated that governments have an obligation under international human rights law to ensure public access to reliable healthcare information. In the preparation of our white paper we recognised that this obligation means that governments should have a strategy to ensure access that goes way beyond the dissemination of 'credibly sourced government information'. In this respect, the above recommendation misses the point.

I have not had an opportunity to read the report in depth, but it appears to barely mention the ability of end-users to differentiate reliable information from misinformation, and does not mention at all the important role of signposting for this purpose.

As a general comment, the report (like most such reports) focuses too much on 'combatting misinformation' and ignores what I believe is the most important challenge: the need for a global strategy to improve access to reliable information and to help people differentiate reliable from unreliable information. Such a strategy would in my view be far more effective than any amount of 'combatting misinformation' (although of course we need to do the latter as well). HIFA will continue to advocate for this, starting with our global stakeholder consultation to be launched in August in official relations with WHO. In the upcoming survey, one of the questions is whether WHO and/or HIFA should 'support stakeholders to develop a strategy for universal access to reliable healthcare information'. In the meantime, we invite your comments here on the HIFA forum: hifa@hifaforums.org

Finally, the report does not mention WHO and does not include any citations to WHO publications in the References. This makes one ask to what degree this report has been informed by, and agreed with, UN agencies, especially WHO itself. Health misinformation is clearly the most dangerous and most urgent type of misinformation, and input from WHO and other health-related agencies should be prominent.

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of HIFA (Healthcare Information For All), a global health community that brings all stakeholders together around the shared goal of universal access to reliable healthcare information. HIFA has 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting in four languages and representing all parts of the global evidence ecosystem. HIFA is administered by Global Healthcare Information Network, a UK-based nonprofit in official relations with the World Health Organization. Email: neil@hifa.org