At the request of Ukraine, the UN Human Rights Council on Friday (1 April) adopted a plan of action to tackle disinformation, with widespread – but not universal – support.
Officially sponsored by Japan, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the UK and US, the draft resolution presented to the Geneva forum emphasised the primary role that governments have in countering false narratives.
The Council's decisions are not legally binding but carry the weight of the world's pre-eminent body dedicated to promoting and protecting human rights.
Although China said disinformation was a common enemy of the international community, it disassociated itself from adopting the draft resolution, saying that there was too little emphasis on the root causes of fake news, and the role of human rights mechanisms.
Venezuela also declined to approve the text, citing bias and alleging that some of the sponsors of the draft resolution were behind disinformation campaigns.
Meanwhile, France said disinformation was increasingly being used to attack human rights activists and journalists and urged more coordination and efforts among states to tackle it.
India noted that social media companies had an important role to play in combating fake news, as its impact on societies was increasing.
Indonesia said countering disinformation was a top priority, before insisting that policies were best designed by national authorities, to take into account cultural differences.
Although disinformation is not new, modern-day digital tools and social media platforms have allowed maliciously incorrect information to spread widely, before false facts can be challenged and removed.
At a global level, the dissemination of fake news came to the fore in the early months of Covid, with unscientific remedies and anti-vaxxers gaining a massive online following among communities who were taken in by a proliferation of fake news and rumours.
The problem has also surfaced in the Ukraine crisis and affected the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has said its lifesaving work there has been undermined by a "deliberate and targeted campaign of misinformation" aimed at destroying the relationship of trust that humanitarians need to operate independently in war zones.