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Video: UN chief calls for global internet censorship

Migration and UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres briefed the international media in Geneva August 3, 2012 after returning from a joint trip to Burkina Faso to review the situation of Malian refugees. (Eric Bridiers/U.S. Mission Geneva)
February 12, 2023

The head of the United Nations, Secretary-General António Guterres, called for a global crackdown on what he called “mis- and disinformation on the internet” during a speech Monday.

“We will call for action from everyone with influence on the spread of mis- and disinformation on the internet – governments, regulators, policymakers, technology companies, the media, civil society,” Guterres said. “Stop the hate. Set up strong guardrails. Be accountable for language that causes harm.”

His comment came during a speech on 2023 priorities delivered to the U.N.’s main decision-making body, the General Assembly. The full transcript is available online.

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“We will also further strengthen our focus on how mis- and disinformation are impacting progress on global issues, including the climate crisis,” Guterres added.

Replying to a clip of the speech, Twitter CEO Elon Musk, who touted free speech ideals when he acquired the social media site last year, said, “The UN is more likely to cause, rather than prevent, disinformation.”

During the speech, Guterres also mentioned a “code of conduct for information integrity on digital platforms” that, according to a press release, is being developed by the U.N.’s Department of Global Communications.

That idea stems from Guterres’ 2021 report on the U.N.’s future goals, where he wrote that “a global code of conduct that promotes integrity in public information could be explored together with States, media outlets and regulatory bodies, facilitated by the United Nations.”

He wrote that amid rising concerns about trusting information, it is “time to understand, better regulate and manage our digital commons as a global public good.”

In the report, Guterres said other potential steps to bolster the spreading of reliable information include “support for public interest and independent media, regulation of social media, strengthening [freedom of information laws] and ensuring a prominent voice for science and expertise.”