Ensuring Access to Accurate Information and Combatting Misinformation about Pandemics
23 Pages Posted: 3 Feb 2021 Last revised: 10 Mar 2021
Date Written: November 18, 2020
In the context of a conference exploring topics that should be addressed in a possible treaty on pandemics, this paper argues for nimble treatment of a critical issue—the viral spread of misinformation about vaccines. Drawing upon existing duties under international law, it argues for inclusion of explicit language about governments’ obligation to disseminate and ensure public access to timely and accurate information about pandemics, including vaccines, and the obligation of government leaders not to disseminate misinformation. It urges as well that such a treaty make clear that any government measures taken to restrict communications that include misinformation about pandemics must meet the stringent criteria for speech restrictions enunciated by human rights treaty bodies. Finally, while recognizing the crucial role of social media in spreading misinformation, it argues that the responsibilities of tech platforms to ensure they do not become vectors for the spread of false information that imperils health should be addressed in preambular language rather than through text imposing legally binding obligations.
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