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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Digital, media and information literacy are key to freedoms

03 July 2023

Delivered by

Nada Al-Nashif United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights


53rd session of the Human Rights Council


Panel discussion on the role of digital, media and information literacy in the promotion and enjoyment of the right to freedom of opinion and expression


Geneva, Palais des Nations, Room XX

Mr. President,
Ladies and gentlemen,

We live in a world characterised by digitalisation and rapid technological advancement, with the online space playing a central role in all matters of public and private life, exponentially enhancing the flow and availability of information. In this context, it is important to note how much digital, media, and information literacy empowers individuals, as it allows the effective exercise of a wide range of human rights, including the rights to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 75th anniversary, of which we commemorate this year.

However, while digital and online spaces form an integral part of the lives of the majority of the global population, we must remember that a large proportion of the globe still lacks such access. 2.7 billion people, more than 90 per cent of whom live in the developing world, have still never used the internet. Among the 5.3 billion that do have access to the internet, many still lack regular and meaningful access.This digital divide between and within countries continues to exacerbate inequalities, with women and girls, and those that are least privileged, suffering its consequences. It affects their ability to receive vital information, access educational resources, digital governmental services, and opportunities for socio-economic development. Bridging this divide and finding ways to alleviate its consequences should be a priority for all States and other stakeholders.

Digital technologies have indeed provided opportunities for a greater plurality of voices to be heard and influence the public debate. Notably, those that have been previously marginalised, and has contributed to shedding light on human rights violations and abuses, and I can recall the MeToo and BlackLivesMatter movements.

Digital and online spaces have also allowed individuals unprecedented access to information sources and ideas. This underscores the importance of giving individuals the tools to develop abilities for critical engagement with various forms of media, and also to evaluate the reliability and credibility of sources. As noted by the UN Secretary-General, media and information literacy is critical for building societal resilience and countering disinformation - important in electoral contexts, the COVID 19 pandemic and in crisis situations, but also in the many walks of daily life.

Our Office has repeatedly reported on internet shutdowns, undue content restrictions, digital surveillance, and other restrictions on the freedom of expression. We have also witnessed increased threats to privacy by States and business enterprises, including through mass surveillance and data collection. Threats to privacy exist for anyone using digital technologies, but such measures have also specifically targeted journalists, human rights defenders, those with views dissenting from the views of Governments, and many others. These trends make it necessary that individuals are equipped with the tools and knowledge to identify risks and safeguard their own privacy and personal data, but also emphasize the importance of refraining from undue interference in the rights to expression and privacy, as required under international human rights law.

In many States, the digitalisation of the public sector offers the promise of increased efficiency and accessibility of public services. This development is welcome, but there are also risks that individuals without access or without the necessary digital skills are left behind, thereby being further excluded and marginalised, unable to access and critically assess information in order to claim their rights, including social, economic and cultural rights.

These examples show that the promotion of digital, media and information literacy must form part of broader commitments by States to respect, protect and fulfil human rights, and by business entities to adhere to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Given their importance for the exercise of rights in the digital age, digital, media and information literacy programmes should be considered an integral part of education efforts. For children and young people, digital, media and information literacy should be included in formal education curricula, to promote their equal opportunity to participate in an increasingly complex digital reality with all its consequences. Efforts should also be targeted at other groups, including older persons, for whom such programmes could help to ensure their continued connectedness to and participation in public life, notably access to public services, for example health and education, in a context where such services are increasingly digitalised.

Actors other than States can also play important and positive roles to enhance digital, media and information literacy. These include the advocacy and outreach efforts of regional organisations, business entities, the media, educational institutions, and civil society actors. Such efforts should be supported to ensure that this pillar of democratic, transparent, accountable and inclusive societies can be harnessed for meaningful participation by all.

Thank you.