Press Release

Secretary-General’s Press Conference to launch the Global Principles for Information Integrity

25 June 2024

Caption: UN photo

25 June 2024

Secretary-General: The spread of hatred and lies online is causing grave harm to our world.

Misinformation, disinformation and hate speech are fuelling prejudice and violence; exacerbating divisions and conflicts; demonizing minorities; and compromising the integrity of elections.

Today, I am pleased to present a starting point for solutions: The United Nations Global Principles for Information Integrity.

These five principles -- [societal] trust and resilience; independent, free, and pluralistic media; healthy incentives; transparency and research; and public empowerment -- are based on an overriding vision of a more humane [information] ecosystem.

They call for an information environment that champions human rights and a sustainable future.

And they provide a solid foundation for sustainable, inclusive development, climate action, democracy and peace.

Threats to information integrity are not new, but they are proliferating and expanding with unprecedented speed on digital platforms, supercharged by artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.

Science, facts, human rights, public health and climate action are under attack.  And when information integrity is targeted, so is democracy -- which depends on a shared, fact-based perception of reality.

False narratives, distortions and lies breed cynicism, disbelief and disengagement.  They undermine social cohesion, putting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) further out of reach.

Opaque algorithms push people into information bubbles and reinforce prejudices including racism, misogyny and discrimination of all kinds.

Women, refugees, migrants and minorities are common targets. Activists, advocates, researchers, scientists and leaders are harassed and humiliated.

The damage goes far beyond the digital realm, affecting billions of people who are not connected to the Internet.

Lives are at stake when lies are spread about vaccines and other medical issues.

The United Nations’ own operations and missions are compromised, as our staff deal with a tsunami of falsehoods and absurd conspiracy theories.

The United Nations Global Principles for Information Integrity are the result of broad consultations with Member States, with youth leaders, academia, civil society, the private sector including tech companies, and you -- the media.

Those consultations showed that much of the world shares our deep concern and is searching for solutions.

The Global Principles lay out a clear path forward, firmly rooted in human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and opinion.

I urge Governments, the tech sector, and other stakeholders to listen to your people and your customers -- and to respond.

Some stakeholders carry an outsized responsibility.  For them, I have a clear message:  We demand action.

First, to the big tech companies -- take responsibility.  Acknowledge the damage your products are inflicting on people and communities.

You have the power to mitigate harm to people and societies around the world.

You have the power to change business models that profit from disinformation and hate.

Second, to advertisers and the public relations (PR) industry:

Stop monetizing harmful content.

Strengthen information integrity; protect your brand; boost your bottom line.

The climate crisis is a cause of particular concern.  Coordinated disinformation campaigns are seeking to undermine climate action.

Creatives -- don’t use your talents to greenwash.

PR agencies -- look for clients who aren’t misleading people and destroying our planet.

Third, my message to media outlets is:

Raise and enforce editorial standards.

Do your part to safeguard our future by providing quality journalism based on facts and reality.

Find advertisers who are part of the solution, not the problem.

And finally, I say to Governments:

Commit to creating and maintaining a free, viable, independent and plural media landscape.

Guarantee strong protections for journalists.  Ensure regulations uphold human rights.  

Refrain from drastic measures, including blanket internet shutdowns.  Respect the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Let me be very clear:

Everyone should be able to express themselves freely without fear of attack.  Everyone should be able to access a range of views and information sources.

No one should be at the mercy of an algorithm they don’t control, which was not designed to safeguard their interests, and which tracks their behaviour to collect personal data and keep them hooked.

These principles aim to empower people to demand their rights. They support parents, anxious for their children.  Young people, whose future relies on information integrity.  Civil society and academia, who are pushing for change.  And public interest media, striving to convey reliable and accurate information.

The UN hears your calls for guidance and support.  Don’t lose heart -- raise your voices.  Demand accountability; demand choice; demand control.

You are the majority.  And this is a fight we can win -- together.


Questions and Answers:

Question: Valeria Robecco from ANSA Newswire. So, my question is, how do you think you will get countries on board and those principles being implemented; and looking specifically to our zones, how [inaudible] are you to see an implementation of these principles, not only to ensure safety for the press, but also for the public to have access to reliable and timely information?  And if I may, on Lebanon, is there any developments, any good developments in terms, like, did you have contacts with the parties in trying to de-escalate the situation?  Thank you so much.

Secretary-General: Answering the second, since my stakeout on Friday, nothing relevant has happened that I know.  Now, we have a clear message to Governments, and that message is based fundamentally on the respect of human rights.  And obviously, Governments have the capacity to regulate, and those regulations must be organized in a way that human rights are respected, that freedom of expression is respected, that freedom of media is respected, that journalists are protected, and at the same time, that those platforms that have the capacity to spread information put the integrity of the information first -- and not a business model that makes more money when hate speech or misinformation is spread.  All the research that was done proves that with most of the present business models, false things, especially if they are scandalous, appeals to intolerance and to hate speech tend to have a much stronger engagement and that the algorithms are based on that.  So, what we ask is the platforms to assume responsibilities in this regard, and we ask Governments to be attentive to this and to have the regulations that respect the principles that I mentioned, but at the same time that create the conditions for the business models to be based on a “do no harm” perspective.


Question: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary-General.  First, a follow-up on the principles.  You said that big tech companies, and especially advertising and PR people, really have control over this in a major way.  What is the UN going to do to try and ensure that big tech and advertising and PR companies actually take these principles to heart and do what you said, which is to stop disinformation, hate speech, et cetera?  And secondly, on Gaza, there’s been an escalation of fighting. And also, what is your reaction to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement this morning that Israel will not agree to any deal that calls for a permanent ceasefire?  Thank you.

Secretary-General: First of all, in relation to the first question, all those companies have people working there, their parents, their citizens; they are interested in “do no harm”.  And this appeal, we have seen in many areas how the staff of companies has been a very important factor in making sure that companies do the right thing.  On the other hand, one of our objectives is to mobilize public opinion, for public opinion to put pressure -- put pressure on companies and put pressure on Governments in this regard.  But I have to say that the problem is that those companies even lose control with the present systems in place, because when you have an algorithm, the algorithm works automatically and you don’t even control what the algorithm will produce. So, people need to be much more rigorous in the algorithms that are developed.  And most of the advertising companies, I must say, I doubt that they have control of their own products in many of the social media platforms.  So, I think it’s in the interest of the advertising industry to know exactly how their products are being used, how do they appear, how is that selected within the way algorithms work and within the way the tech companies work.  So, in my opinion, it’s fundamental to mobilize everybody, including those that operate in these industries, to accept the principle of “do no harm” and to adapt their business models to the right thing to do.

The second question, our position has been the same since the beginning.  We strongly advocate for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and for an immediate release and unconditional release of all hostages as the basis to create the conditions for, one day, the two-State solution to be possible.


Question:  So that means that…?

Secretary-General: That means that it’s a different position than the one that you have expressed.


Question: Secretary-General, Xu Dezhi with China Central Television.  I promise you, I only have one question.  It’s about information integrity.  Let me give you an example.  If I search UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency)…

Secretary-General: You get the prize.


Question: If I search UNRWA on Google now…

Secretary-General: Sorry?


Question: If I search UNRWA on Google now, the second result is a sponsored advertisement called “UNRWA neutrality compromised”.  So, in this information integrity, how can you ensure that Governments, they don’t, because of maybe their national interests, to push for misinformation or disinformation?  Do you have confidence that Member States would do that?

Secretary-General: I think that Member States have a vested interest in not promoting misinformation, because sooner or later, the truth is discovered.  I’ll give you one example of misinformation about myself.  I’ve heard the same source many times saying that I never attacked Hamas, that I never condemned Hamas, that I am a supporter of Hamas.  I asked for a statistic to be made by our colleagues. I have condemned Hamas 102 times -- 51 of them in formal speeches, the others in different social platforms.  So, I mean, the truth, in the end, always wins.


Question: Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General. Abdelhamid Siyam from the Arabic daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi.  Mr. Secretary-General, the Palestinian people are being obliterated.  The killing machine did not stop for the last nine months. Over 130,000 Palestinians either killed, maimed, and there’s over 20,000 Palestinian children became orphans.  Israel is defying every international agency, four Security Council resolutions, two General Assembly resolutions, ICJ (International Court of Justice), three times, the provisional measures…

Spokesman: Abdelhamid, I beg you, please a question.


Question: What else can the international community do to protect the Palestinians?  Would they just keep watching while thousands and thousands Palestinians being killed, both in Gaza and the West Bank?  Thank you.

Secretary-General: Well, first of all, the international community must put all pressure in order for international law to be respected, for international humanitarian law to be respected.  The number of Palestinians killed in Gaza is unprecedented in any conflict that I have witnessed since I am Secretary-General, which means that the protection of civilians has not been a key instrument in the conduct of this operation.  And on the other hand, I mean, international law applies, and there are courts that deal with international law, and the decisions of those courts must be respected in all circumstances.


Question: Joseph Klein, Canada Free Press.  I want to return to your topic today on the Global Principles for Information Integrity.  You’ve talked often and including today about the danger of misinformation and hate speech on social media, and appropriately so.  But I would like specifically to know how you would apply your message to the tech industry and advertisers, to the growing concern that teenagers and children on social media are being sexually solicited, harassed, bullied, body-shamed and addicted.  That’s something that hasn’t received as much of attention, as far as I can tell, in your remarks, but I’m sure you are very concerned about it.  So, could you comment on it?  Thank you.

Secretary-General: Well, I explicitly mentioned it in my remarks, and it is central in the document that we have published.  Indeed, the question of children is probably the most worrying question for me in relation to what we are witnessing in misinformation and disinformation and in addiction, because one of the problems is addiction to some series of activities related to social media, to platforms and to other aspects.  I strongly encourage the companies involved to adopt very rigorous mechanisms based on the “do no harm” principle in relation to children.  And I strongly encourage Governments to be particularly effective in regulation in this regard.

Spokesman: Thank you.  We have to let the Secretary-General go, but Melissa will stay to answer any further questions.

Secretary-General: Thank you very much.


Question: Thank you very much.  My name is Volodymyr, National News Agency of Ukraine/Ukrinform.  I also have a question in the context of information integrity.  As you know, as you are aware, Russia continues to regularly bomb Kharkiv, a city of millions of people, and other peaceful cities in Ukraine.  At the same time, Russian propaganda trumpets that it is Ukraine’s fault that Russia continues this war.  How do you think it’s possible to counter such disinformation and lies?

Under-Secretary-General Melissa Fleming: Look, I can only speak to the document that we’re publishing today, and we are urging, if you look at the section on recommendations to Member States, we are urging Member States not to engage in disinformation.  Now, I think disinformation by Member States, by Governments has existed from the beginning of time.  It’s just what we’re focused on is, of course, the UN saying that this is not a responsible way to engage with publics around the world.  That said, what we have now is a machinery that allows actors, whether they are Governments, whether they are individuals, to distribute their statements, their information, their disinformation, at an unprecedented scale, targeted and disguised very often, laundered by different methodologies.  I’m not saying that this is specific to the question that you’re asking.  It’s just that our appeal here is that Governments do have a responsibility.  These are now standards that the UN is putting forward.  I don’t think that we’ve ever made that recommendation as the UN to Member States not to engage.  But at the same time, what we’re really focused on here is the ecosystem that allows this kind of information to travel and penetrate and deceive at such a grand scale.


Question: Thank you, Stephane, and good to see you, Melissa [Fleming, Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications].  What do we do if, or what does the UN do if a State, for example, a major Power, elects someone who dabbles in distortions and lies on a daily basis?

USG Melissa Fleming: Again, it is up to the people of that Government to make that decision -- who they elect.  What we are calling for in this document is integrity of information, which is also in the election sector.  So that people who are making that decision on who to vote for, have during the election period not been bombarded with distorted information or manipulated information, but have had access to reliable information about the candidates that they need to choose from.  That’s one thing.  So again, it’s this ability to easily manipulate that we’re trying to address here, including… you’ll see that there’s a section on addressing AI actors.  There’s huge concern.  I’m sure you’ve seen it and read the alarming reports and some of the examples of the deployment of AI in creating deepfakes around candidates.  It’s already been done in many elections so far. And the ease with which, through these tools that are easy to access, quite cheap, and where, again, coming back to the individual, the user, the person online, are now unable to distinguish between whether that is the actual statement of a politician, or it wasn’t. And when you, as journalists, uncover incredible things that in your accountability function that have actually been said in the AI environment, it’s easier to say, well, I never said that; that was AI.  So, again, we have calls specifically to AI actors to ensure -- not make the same mistakes that social media companies did -- to ensure safety by design, to make sure AI content is labelled and to make sure it’s not misused; the same with the tech companies.  If there is AI content circulating, it needs to be labelled, maybe also even taken down.


Question: Stefano Vaccara, La Voce di New York, Italy Press.  This is a question, but it’s also a comment that it happens that…

Spokesman: The question would be more appreciated.


Question: Yes, but it’s every semester, I had to give it an assignment to students to research what the people out there knows about the United Nations, for example, about the SDGs and everything.  So, one thing we found out in the last 10 years, every semester, people know nothing.  And we are in New York City, we are not in, you know, somewhere; only very small percentage.  So, and then what would be your advice, I asked the students, and they always say the same thing, say why the UN is not in TikTok or is not enough in TikTok, in the socials?  Why they don’t bomb the socials with whatever they do?  Because they recognize that what the UN does is good.  I mean, they end up to like the UN, but they say, why you are not, why the UN is not there?  So, please, can you answer to those students and tell what would be the next project for you?

USG Melissa Fleming: Thank you for that question.  And I would say this is the continuous battle that we’re facing.  Number one, the United Nations is downranked on Meta platforms.  That means our content has a much lower starting point than any individual.  We’ve asked Meta over and over again to undo this, to design, to tweak the design in their algorithm so that UN content is, doesn’t have to struggle to be seen in people’s feeds.  That’s one. Second, we have, we do, and you’ll see that there is in the document, “the UN will do” section -- part of that is communication strategy.  For the last I don’t know how many years we have been working to be in those spaces where people receive their information.  We actually, UN accounts actually have 60 million followers. 

Maybe your students, unfortunately, aren’t following them, but we are on TikTok, but we struggle there as well, because we don’t typically dance to our statements.  Although maybe I might suggest that Steph does a version after each new briefing.  But it is the struggle to compete in this information environment, where there is so much information out there and where the types of information that we’re trying to impart are not what the Secretary-General described as the types of content that the algorithm promotes.  If it enrages, it engages, and often cold sober facts are not going to get elevated.  So, it’s a struggle, but we’re stepping up our communications.  We had, as you may know, during COVID, we had a communications initiative called Verified, in which we actually studied the narratives around COVID-19, and we also looked at information gaps where people were searching, and we created content at scale over months and months and months that was digitally optimized and distributed it to our country offices and our teams around the world, who could put it into different languages and get local media partners.  We recruited digital first responders, volunteers who wanted to join forces with us and help us just by taking our content and sharing it within their own communities.  And we also had doctors and scientists who were taking World Health Organization (WHO) messaging and speaking in their native languages via TikTok to their communities.  And all of this, actually, we tested it and it worked.  It takes a lot of effort.  And now we’re shifting Verified to climate.  So, in those spaces where there is, especially in climate, we have fossil fuel companies who are investing a lot on promoting their product.  And we’re seeing, just like you saw when you put in a search engine, for example, climate change, you might see an ad that is, maybe, hopefully your students will see it as identified as an ad, but it’s placed there by a fossil fuel company.  So, it’s kind of an information race, but we’re doing our best.


Question: Thank you, Melissa.  It is, of course, annoying to see the amount of disinformation and misinformation about the war in Gaza, but it’s more annoying and to see that number of journalists killed and yet the UN was not outcrying these crimes. Some of these journalists were killed while they are live on camera.  Samer Abu Daqqa from Al Jazeera was killed while people watched.  Where is the UN voice in that?  I followed the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), I looked at these statements from UNESCO.  They’re very mute.  Sometimes they say, we condemn the killing of decent.  But why is UN here did not speak up about that…?

USG Melissa Fleming: But UNESCO did give their annual prize to the journalists of Gaza.  We have condemned and we still condemn any killing of any journalist in conflict.  The press vest should be sacrosanct.  Journalists should be protected in carrying out their work. We have loudly lamented the killing of any journalist in Gaza.  But the numbers of journalists killed in Gaza, over 100, is deeply disturbing to us.


Thank you very much.  Melissa, thank you.  And we’ll see you back tomorrow.


UN entities involved in this initiative

United Nations

Goals we are supporting through this initiative