Countering disinformation to defend human rights

The fight against disinformation is important also from the perspective of the realisation of human rights. Disinformation is a challenging issue, because it has not been defined in international law, and there is not a straightforward way to distinguish misleading information from correct information. The Finnish Coalition Chair will pay special attention to the introduction of normative instruments for internet stakeholders.

The Freedom Online Coalition (FOC) is a partnership of governments that are committed to the promotion of an open and safe internet. In February, a public online event was organised to discuss the FOC Joint Statement on the spread of disinformation. The event was part of Finland's Chairship of the FOC in 2021.

At the end of 2020, the FOC issued a Joint Statement on Spread of Disinformation OnlineLink to another website., prepared under the leadership of Finland and the UK. Its aim is to counter the use of disinformation for undermining human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Statements adopted by the 32 member states of the FOC are important normative instruments for developing global internet practices. During its Chairship, Finland will call special attention to the implementation and monitoring of FOC statements.

”The application of the Joint Statement on disinformation is one of the Finnish Chairship’s priorities,” says Ambassador for Human Rights Rauno Merisaari, who was responsible for the preparation of the statement.

Fact-based information is important for well-functioning democracies

The phenomenon of disinformation has been around for a long time, but what is new is how rapidly it is now proliferating. At the event in February, Director General of Communications at the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs Elina Ravantti raised her concern about attacks against journalists and human rights defenders as well as about the spread of disinformation supported by authoritarian regimes, which undermines trust in democratic institutions and independent media.

Director for Security and Online Harms Sarah Connolly from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in the UK, emphasised the significance of factual information for well-functioning democracies. She said that the Cabinet Office has established a Rapid Response Unit, which concentrates on countering disinformation. The unit has worked with online platforms to remove false coronavirus information online, which violates their rules.

Motunrayo Joel, who represents a Nigerian non-profit organisation, Africa Check, said that disinformation about COVID-19 has spread in Nigeria, causing much harm. She said that the organisation is tackling disinformation by publishing research-based information, conducting fact-checking, and investing in the development of young people’s fact-checking skills. 

Finland has strengths that can be used to counter disinformation

From the perspective countering disinformation, Finland's strength lies in high public trust in institutions and the media.  Teaching media literacy is an essential aspect in the development of critical thinking. The Government’s role is important.

Both companies and governments are needed to counter disinformation

 An important approach in the fight against disinformation is cooperation between different actors. Emilar Gandhi, who represents Facebook, said that both companies and governments are needed, neither can respond to the challenge on their own.

One example of Finnish cooperation is Combating coronavirus together by sharing reliable informationLink to another website., a project launched by the Prime Minister's Office and Media Pool, where social media influencers shared reliable information on coronavirus with population groups that may otherwise not be reached. 

What should the FOC do now that the statement has been published? Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression, urged member governments to look at the important messages conveyed in the statement and compare them with their own actions to counter disinformation. She also highlighted the importance of disseminating the FOC’s message to wider global audiences