The press release issued by the Foreign Office on 19 October 2023.
Statement by Mungo Woodifield, UK Spokesperson to the UN, at the UN Fourth Committee meeting on information.
Thank you Chair.
I would like to start, like others, by thanking the Department of Global Communications for their engagement with Member States and for their work on the development of the Code of Conduct for Information Integrity on Digital Platforms.
Digital platforms have become crucial tools that have transformed the way in which we access information. Each year, the number of people online increases. And each year, we see developments and changes in digital platforms, from the growth of new social media to the rapid evolution of artificial intelligence, which brings with it both immense opportunities, but also serious risks.
We all see the increased spread of mis and disinformation online. It is a pervasive threat. Mis and disinformation, and attempts to artificially manipulate the information environment have the ability to impact billions. It can threaten our freedoms, and cause harm to individuals and society, and as we have seen in recent weeks, it misleads people in times of crisis.
Artificial intelligence has the ability to increase the volume, sophistication and spread of misinformation and disinformation online.
Access to trusted information is the antidote and the UN has a vital role to play in providing accurate, impartial reporting based on facts. But the job is getting harder each year.
The UK has four points on what we would like to see.
First, Member States have a responsibility to protect the integrity of the UN as a source of trusted information. This is a Member-State led body and of course, we will have political disagreements and differing views on a range of issues, but when we do agree, we rely on the UN to communicate and implement those decisions. It cannot do that effectively if it is being undermined.
Unfortunately, some Member States are spreading harmful disinformation at and about the UN. We remain very concerned by disinformation about UN Peacekeeping operations in the field. UN Blue Helmets are asked to do difficult work in the most challenging environments, and the spread of false allegations about their work poses real threats to UN staff and severely impedes their missions. We support plans by the DGC to develop an information integrity lab that can support UN operations in the field and quickly rebut these false allegations.
Since their illegal invasion of Ukraine, Russia has been exploiting the Security Council as a platform for disinformation. This goes beyond the disagreements and contested debates between Council members. Without any precedent in Security Council history, Russia has invited dozens of individuals as briefers to spread conspiracy theories about what has happened in Ukraine, which has been proven demonstrably false time and time again by UN experts.
Russia’s disinformation campaign distracts from the awful reality of its crimes on the ground and has degraded the level of discussion at the Security Council. The UK is committed to preventing that. We all need a UN that is trusted and taken seriously, so we will continue to expose disinformation when we see it, and hold Russia accountable for what it is doing.
Second, Member States and platforms alike have a responsibility to keep pace with rapid developments in technology, to understand them and govern them, in order to keep the billions who use them safe. Platforms should take steps to improve transparency regarding algorithms and content moderation. For our part, the UK passed our Online Safety Bill this year, which we hope will make the UK the safest place in the world to be online. It places new duties on social media companies, improves child protection and increases user empowerment.
In this vein, the UK strongly supports the development of the UN Code of Conduct for Information Integrity on Digital Platforms as a tool to support similar national efforts around the world. We encourage all Member States to work constructively with the DGC to keep up the momentum on its development.
Third, the UK supports taking a human-rights-based approach to meeting the information challenge. While it is essential to counter mis and disinformation, we must ensure, as we do this, that we protect the right to freedom of expression. It is important the UN’s Code of Conduct respects the careful balance in international human rights law on the kinds of speech which must be prohibited, and those which must not be restricted.
Finally, Chair, we must do more to tackle the widening digital divide which exacerbates information inequality. To ensure everyone has access to quality information means equipping users with the digital literacy skills to recognise and challenge mis and disinformation. Digital technologies are a crosscutting accelerator of development and a key enabler to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. The UK is playing our part to support an inclusive, responsible digital transformation.