Addressing the Human Rights Impacts of Misinformation without Further Harming Human Rights

A major area of research for HRBDT is the human rights impact of misinformation and disinformation and state and business responses to hate speech online and disinformation.

In 2019, Dr Elena Abrusci, Sam Dubberley and Prof Lorna McGregor completed a literature review for OHCHR on the debate around ‘fake news’ and human rights. As misinformation and disinformation continue to spread around the world and significantly impact societies, there is an urgent need to understand what the impact of these phenomena are on human rights. The literature review revealed that while misinformation and disinformation have been analysed to a great extent from a political and sociological perspective, particularly in the context of elections, very little research is available on their human rights impact and there is no study looking at the issue under a human rights law framework. Moreover, the responses to misinformation and disinformation put in place by states and companies are lacking a human rights approach and sometimes they can actually pose further threats to human rights. In light of these findings, HRBDT decided to fill this gap and expand the review into an extended report on disinformation and human rights which will be published later this year.

In May, Dr Elena Abrusci was invited to present our early findings at the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day in Addis Ababa and in November Elena shared the findings to date at the 2019 FoMe Symposium organised by Deutsche Welle in Bonn. HRBDT was also invited to provide expert feedback and inputs on mis/disinformation by other civil society actors such as Chatham House and Reporters Without Borders.

HRBDT’s work on mis/disinformation also investigates the techniques used to amplify this phenomenon, including online targeting. The project will engage with UK Parliamentarians to contribute to important debates on this subject. In June 2019 HRBDT responded to the CDEI call for submission on online targeting. The submission warned about the impact that this may have on human rights and the need to regulate both the data collection, sharing and processing that inform targeting and the use of online targeting against people in vulnerable situations. The submission is available here. In October, HRBDT also made a submission to the House of Lords’ Select Committee on Democracy and Digital Technologies on misinformation, highlighting the human rights risks associated both with misinformation and with the responses to tackle misinformation such as anti-disinformation laws and content moderations

As a follow up to this research, HRBDT will be publishing a major report on disinformation and human rights in 2020.