As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, major social and political challenges have risen globally, together with the health emergency. As governments around the world continue to adopt emergency measures to address the crisis, UN Secretary António Guterres urges states to be transparent, responsive, and accountable in their COVID-19 response and ensure that their policies are legal, proportionate, necessary, and non-discriminatory.
Some of the main issues related to the protraction of the pandemic were already highlighted in the policy brief "COVID-19 and Human Rights – We are all in this together" from April 2020. Back then, the UN Secretary-General pointed at threats to the free flow of information, crackdowns on freedom of expression and press freedom, prosecution of political opponents for allegedly spreading "fake news", aggressive cyber-policing and increased online surveillance, and postponement of elections in some countries. Even in 2021, it is still essential that states, in their response to the pandemic, continue to respect and protect, among other rights, freedom of expression and of the press, freedom of information, freedom of association and of assembly.
The pandemic provided once again a clear example of the crisis raised by the question on how to effectively counter harmful speech while preserving freedom of expression, as extensive efforts to eliminate disinformation may result in purposeful or unintentional censorship, thus undermining trust. For this reason, the UN equally highlights the importance of developing media literacy and digital safety skills among society.
If you are interested in exploring the topic further, you can find below just a handful of useful pedagogical resources designed by the Insafe network of European Safer Internet Centres (SICs) which are freely accessible in the BIK resource gallery:
- The Slovenian Safer Internet Centre has created a short interactive quiz featuring examples of fake news on COVID-19. Available in Slovenian.
- The self-learning course “E-democracy and safety” developed by the Estonian Safer Internet Centre, aimed at developing digital citizenship skills, e-participation and combatting online threats. Available in Estonian.
- InfoHunter, a resource developed by TRALALERE in partnership with Image’IN for the French Safer Internet Centre teaching how to recognise fake news in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Available in English and French.
- “The Voting Booth”, an interactive device meant for young people to experiment with different citizenship modes and learn more about voting systems and civic participation. Available in French.
Additionally, we recommend reading the June 2020 edition of the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) bulletin exploring freedom of expression online in the age of disinformation.