The United Nations has launched a new initiative to counter misinformation around the world as it pertains to the COVID-19 pandemic by increasing the volume and reach of trusted, accurate information.

The global initiative ‘Verified’ seeks to enlist millions of digital first responders around the world who will actively work to fill information voids or counter the proliferation of misinformation that has become all too commonplace, particularly on social media, websites and messaging apps.

The UN is issuing a global call to action for millions of people around the world to sign up and become information volunteers in order to share trust content to keep their communities safe.

“We are collaborating with the organisation – one of the world’s leading social mobilisation organisations called Purpose – to launch today an initiative called Verify. Verify is going to be, among other things, but very centrally inviting the global public to volunteer to counter this growing scourge of COVID-19 misinformation and sharing UN verified, science-based content with their communities,” UN Global Communications Secretary-General Melissa Flemming said.

Volunteers would sign up at the website after which they’d receive a daily feed of verified content that’s optimised for sharing on social media platforms, with a specific goal of countering those seeking to deceive.

Flemming says the initiative is to counter misinformation that often circulates faster than facts.

“It’s not just because there’s a scarcity of information. On the contrary, there is a glut of information, but fiction is often circulating faster than fact and it’s endangering public health response and ultimately it’s endangering people’s lives. Purveyors of misinformation are creating storylines and slick content that are filling information voids where science has no answers. They offer promises of cures that have no evidence of benefit or may even be harmful. They are savvy by using narratives that link to people’s fears and appeal to people’s need for answers or need to find a culprit.”

The UN will partner with influencers, civil society, business and media organisations in the hopes of rooting out hate or harmful assertions about COVID-19 like fake remedies, or unproven therapeutics or conspiracy theories about vaccines, which have metastasized in recent weeks.

“While we still need the basic guidelines; stay at home, wear a mask, etc. We’re seeing new information needs and a disturbing rise in hate and stigmatisation and we expect a further increase of targeting of particular groups. Unfortunately, in the algorithm-driven social media era, the popularity of a post often has more influence over who sees it, whether it is factual. So, social media platforms have committed to taking down or are putting up warnings about dubious information and are even guiding people to the WHO website or website of national health authorities,” said Flemming.

A digital battlefield requiring sophisticated new methods to help ensure that the truth and facts still matter, particularly on questions of life and death amidst a global public health emergency.