Combatting the COVID-19 ‘infodemic’ — ensuring trust through reliable information and strong data protection in times of crisis
By Hilde HARDEMAN
COVID-19 has fundamentally altered our lives. The virus continues to pose a formidable challenge to all of us, our communities, our governments, economies and societies. At a moment when facts about the coronavirus and how to contain it are absolutely critical, trust in conventional sources of information has eroded in many parts of the world. Adeeply unfortunate ‘infodemic’ further complicates the pandemic response. This is especially true in contexts already weakened and polarised by crisis or conflict.
Data collection and analysis will play a key role in identifying and implementing response strategies, particularly through the use of digital technologies. However, here too, mistrust can quickly undermine even the most well intentioned efforts to leverage data and technology to address the crisis. The European Commission’s Service for Foreign Policy Instruments (FPI), under the banner Inform and Protect, welcomes debate and exchange at the Paris Peace Forum on how states and societies can promote open, transparent and reliable use of information and data in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, while ensuring respect for privacy rights and preventing the spread of harmful information.
In conflict-affected areas especially, different factors can converge to frustrate response efforts: public health systems are under strain, basic service provision is weak, state authorities might lack legitimacy and their actions are at times met with suspicion. In these circumstances, a public health crisis of the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic can increase the risk of violence and fuel further divisions and social tensions. The ‘infodemic’ that followed the outbreak of COVID-19 highlighted the importance of access to reliable and trustworthy information and the importance of promoting the ability to distinguish between useful and potentially harmful information. This is not a challenge that can be addressed at one level only. It requires engagement at the level of (social) media platforms, at the level of states and international organisations that can help develop international norms and standards, as well as at the level of civil society and grassroots…