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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Türk addresses International Strategic Communication Summit

Combating disinformation

24 November 2023

Delivered by

Türk addresses International Strategic Communication Summit


International Strategic Communication Summit


Istanbul, Türkiye

Warm greetings to you all and thank you for the opportunity to address this Summit.

It is often said that knowledge – or information – is power.

Information drives advances in technology. It shapes minds. It enables us to participate meaningfully in our communities and political processes.

And it builds trust – in each other, in our institutions, and between nations.

In short, it is the lifeblood of social progress.

Today’s information landscape is unprecedented in its complexity.

We have endless channels to seek, find and share information, both online and offline. We can connect instantly with new communities and new ideas.

And millions who previously had no way of being heard finally have a voice, and an audience.

At the same time, the distinct lack of safeguards and oversight in the face of breakneck-speed digital advances creates real risks to human rights.

Misogynistic attacks against women and girls, notably online, are rampant, including through social media and messaging services.

Right now, in the context of the devastating situation in the Middle East, streams of abuse and dehumanising speech online are fuelling anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred both within and outside the region. That is very concerning.

Just as we have seen organized disinformation campaigns fuel hate and discrimination against other groups in the past.

States have an obligation - and businesses a responsibility - to address such harmful speech.

Yet instead of investing in access to information, we are very concerned to see some government authorities and businesses exerting their control and influence to limit it, or to themselves spread misinformation or disinformation.

We see censorship and mass surveillance of communications.

Widespread internet and communications shutdowns, cutting people off from vital contact or information they may need to survive.

Repressive legislation silencing dissent and undermining civic space, with bloggers, social media users, journalists and human rights defenders facing jail time simply for exercising their human right to freedom of expression.

Dear participants,

I firmly believe that an approach grounded in the unifying language of human rights can help steer us in a better and healthier direction.

A direction which upholds our right to information, and our right to debate, openly and freely. And which uses human rights as a guide to address harmful speech.

How do we get there?

We get there by rebuilding trust.

Through free and independent media.

Education systems which foster critical thinking.

By solid commitments from States and companies to respect the human rights to privacy, and to freedom of expression.

By acknowledging that freedom of expression is not limited to favourable information only.

Ideas and information can shock. They can offend and challenge. They can disturb.

Only in exceptional circumstances can restrictions on freedom of expression be considered. Speech amounting to incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence is prohibited under international human rights law.

States and companies must act transparently on their policies and approaches to information and content.

And they must ensure all people have a say in the policies that affect them, promoting a safe and vibrant space for debate and discussion.

This will also mean closing the digital divide within and between nations, to ensure access to the internet for everyone, everywhere.

We have an obligation to shape our future – in the digital sphere and outside of it - in ways that will genuinely benefit humanity.

A future based on trust, truth, freedom and accountability.

I hope we can all commit to work towards this.

Thank you.