Report on disinformation

15 February 2021
Issued by:
Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
To inform the Special Rapporteur’s annual thematic report to be presented to the Human Rights Council at its 47th session in June 2021

The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression will focus on the issue of disinformation and freedom of opinion and expression in her upcoming report to the Human Rights Council, to be presented in June 2021.

Although there is no agreed universal definition of disinformation, it is commonly understood to be false information that is created and spread, deliberately or otherwise, to harm people, institutions and interests. The practice goes back to ancient times but has gained significant traction in the digital age with the advent of social media to amplify communications. Variously labelled as disinformation, misinformation or “fake news”, it has undermined human rights, eroded public trust in democratic elections, contributed to incitement of violence and hatred, challenged sustainable development and undercut effective responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, endangering the lives of millions of people.

While disinformation has a corrosive effect on democracy, development and human rights, measures to address it raise important challenges for the protection and promotion of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Responses by state or corporate actors must be crafted carefully to ensure that they are in line with international human rights standards. Vague laws prohibiting “fake news”, internet shutdowns, blocking of websites or social media accounts, and indiscriminate content management of social media are just some examples of the ways in which freedom of expression is put at risk in the quest to eradicate disinformation. There is also increasingly concerns about the expanding role of digital tech companies in determining the boundaries of lawful speech or undermining freedom of opinion.

Building on the work of her predecessors1, the Special Rapporteur will seek to clarify how human rights law applies to disinformation, identify key issues that would benefit from further consideration by the Human Rights Council and formulate recommendations to States and other stakeholders on the best way to tackle disinformation whilst protecting the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

To that end, the Special Rapporteur invites Member States, international organizations, national human rights institutions, digital technology companies, civil society organizations, representatives of the media and social media sector, scholars and other interested stakeholders to share their views. In particular, she would welcome contributions in response to the following questions:

  1. What do you believe are the key challenges raised by disinformation? What measures would you recommend to address them?
    1. What legislative, administrative, policy, regulatory or other measures have Governments taken to counter disinformation online and offline?
    2. What has been the impact of such measures on i) disinformation; ii) freedom of opinion and expression; and iii) other human rights?
    3. What measures have been taken to address any negative impact on human rights?
    1. What policies, procedures or other measure have digital tech companies introduced to address the problem of disinformation?
    2. To what extent do you find these measures to be fair, transparent and effective in protecting human rights, particularly freedom of opinion and expression?
    3. What procedures exist to address grievances and provide remedies for users, monitor the action of the companies, and how effective are they?
  2. Please share information on measures that you believe have been especially effective to protect the right to freedom of opinion and expression while addressing disinformation on social media platforms.
  3. Please share information on measures to address disinformation that you believe have aggravated or led to human rights violations, in particular the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
  4. Please share any suggestions or recommendation you may have for the Special Rapporteur on how to protect and promote the right to freedom of opinion and expression while addressing disinformation.

Please feel free to share any relevant documents, reports, news or academic articles that you believe should be considered by the Special Rapporteur in the preparation of her report.

All submissions will be posted on the OHCHR website at the time of the report’s publication, except those containing a clear request not to be made public.

E-mail address:
E-mail subject line:
Input for report on disinformation
Word limit:
None but it would be appreciated if inputs were concise
File formats:
Word, PDF
Accepted languages:
English, French, Spanish

1 2017 Joint Declaration on “Fake News”, Disinformation and Propaganda; Reports on disease pandemics and freedom of expression (A/HRC/44/49); online hate speech (A/74/486); online content moderation (A/HRC/38/35); and Artificial Intelligence technologies and implications for the information environment (A/73/348)

Special Procedures
​Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and opinion
​Recent thematic reports
​Contact information

Ms. Irene Khan
Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneve 10, Switzerland

Fax: +41 22 917 9006

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