by Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Atul Khare
Every day, around 100,000 women and men work as UN peacekeepers in field missions around the world. They serve far from home, in frequently dangerous and always challenging environments to protect, to build and to stabilize. This is our mission, and the context in which peacekeeping operates continue to evolve. The growth of social media and the 24-hour news cycle has created tremendous opportunities to communicate about our work and build support. At the same time, this same phenomenon facilitates the spread and growth of misinformation and disinformation. The modern information virtual landscape — like the real locations in which we serve — is full of dangers and risks.
Rumors and manipulated falsehoods directly impact the security of our police, military and civilian peacekeepers. Loss of public confidence can have catastrophic and long-term effects on the credibility of our peace operations and the implementation of our mandates. They reduce the ability of our peacekeepers — including formed police units and contingents — to operate and can undo years of political gains in a matter of minutes. Efforts to address this are being prioritized as part of an expanded, integrated strategic communications approach to maximize our support to host governments and communities.
Addressing misinformation and disinformation, especially in the context of the global pandemic, has become a global priority for the United Nations. In May 2020, Secretary-General António Guterres launched the Verified campaign to help deliver evidence-based and trusted information to those targeted by misinformation and save lives. As peacekeepers, our primary job is to protect, and we are fully invested in doing everything we can to adjust to this new communications context.
From CAR to DRC to Lebanon and beyond, our peacekeepers are working with partners in innovative ways to share accurate and timely information to highlight the impact of our work and to counter false information. This has entailed strengthening our missions’ support capacities, especially to access and harness new technologies and skills. These efforts have allowed us to manage the expectations of the communities we serve by demonstrating the complexity of our tasks and the critical responsibility of all actors involved.
We are using a diversity of channels to reach target audiences. Mission radio stations, such as Radio Mikado in Mali and Radio Okapi in the DRC have launched multilingual programmes that “myth bust” and help to create well informed and compelling alternative narratives. We use digital tools to better monitor social media to dispel rumours before they spread. We are setting the record straight through explicit use of data and facts and are establishing partnerships with the private sector to take prompt action against sources of misinformation and disinformation.
At the local level, missions have enhanced their engagement with the media through training programmes for journalists to promote professional and responsible reporting. They are also working with news outlets, providing footage to support accurate reporting. In other places, we have distributed solar-powered radios to communities to facilitate their access to information. These efforts, coupled with community-oriented policing initiatives that increase early warning and situational awareness, as well as outreach and sensitization targeting women and youth, promote the good work of the UN while helping to address incitement and tensions before they escalate.
We cannot do this alone. The digital world lends itself to collaboration, and partnerships must continue to be cultivated to maximize outreach. Through the Action for Peacekeeping initiative, peacekeeping stakeholders are already mobilized towards a common agenda to make operations more effective and to achieve lasting peace. Countering the “infodemic” of disinformation and misinformation is a global fight and success will require a global partnership.
UN Peacekeeping and Operational Support work in partnership with the Center of Excellence for Stability Police Units to reinforce guidance, training and recruitment of police for United Nations peace operations. We look forward to expanding this strong collaboration in strategic communications activities to identify innovative ways to counter misperceptions. Our ability to protect the truth, in order to protect lives, has never been more important.
This story was originally published in the CoESPU Magazine 1–2021.