Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy
30 June 2021

Disinformation and Freedom of Opinion and Expression

Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur and Distinguished Fellow at the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy, will present her first report at the UN Human Rights Council on 1 July.

Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression and Distinguished Fellow and Research Associate at the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy, will present her first report to the 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council on 1 July.

In this report, entitled “Disinformation and Freedom of Opinion and Expression”, Dr. Khan examines the threats posed by disinformation to human rights, democratic institutions, and safety of journalists, among others. Dr. Khan acknowledges that the absence of a universally accepted definition of disinformation highlights the complex and divisive landscape of the problem. According to the report, the global disinformation system is powered by commercial, ideological, and political interests. It is driven by increasingly professionalized instigators such as but not limited to state actors, political candidates and parties, terrorist groups, corporate entities, public relations companies. Disinformation is also often unwittingly amplified and shared by traditional media, public figures, and ordinary individuals in their own offline and online networks.

Dr. Khan however stresses the need to understand disinformation in the context of an increasingly divided world “fueled by decades of economic deprivation, market failures, political disenfranchisement and social inequalities, which make some individuals more susceptible to manipulation”. She calls for inclusive and comprehensive solutions that are rooted in the international human rights framework, and urges technology companies to do more in tackling disinformation such as re-evaluating their algorithmic business model which automatically curates content for users to encourage continuous engagement.  The lack of transparency with such a system, according to the report, points towards an “unacceptable level of intrusion into individuals’ right to form their ideas free from manipulation and right to privacy”. Citing the internet shutdowns in various countries and the enactment of overly broad legislations against disinformation, Dr. Khan also finds that state responses have mostly been reactionary, problematic, and detrimental to human rights. She urges states to recalibrate their responses to disinformation; enhance the role of free, independent, and diverse media; and invest in media and digital literacy.


WATCH the report presentation on UN WEB TV.

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