AI fuelling misinformation on public health, climate change – UN spox


ARTIFICIAL intelligence (AI) has been facilitating easy distribution of misinformation and disinformation regarding climate change and vaccines including other global public health issues, said Melissa Fleming, the United Nations (UN) Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications.

Flemming stated this when she presented a lecture at Boston University recently where she discussed the United Nations‘ viewpoint on utilising AI to enhance resilience in global communication.

In her lecture, Fleming addressed the challenges and opportunities associated with AI in effectively distributing accurate global public health communication, focusing specifically on vaccines, climate change, and the well-being of women and girls.

She noted that one of the major concerns revolves around the capability of new technologies to facilitate the spread of misinformation more effortlessly and inexpensively.

READ: From rejection to advocacy: How religious clerics helped to drive high COVID-19 vaccination in Kano

“With the advent of AI, those who might have been screaming in a park with an audience of three now have the ability to reach thousands, if not millions of people. One of our biggest worries is the ease with which new technologies can help spread misinformation easier and cheaper, and that this content can be produced at scale and far more easily personalized and targeted,” Fleming stated.

Fleming emphasized that misinformation, particularly concerning vaccines, has notably flourished, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The utilization of AI has further exacerbated this issue, making it both more accessible and cost-effective.

She also noted that due to the polarization of vaccine-related information, numerous celebrities and influencers are hesitating to advocate for vaccination benefits out of fear of facing backlash. Consequently, there has been an increase in outbreaks of previously controlled diseases, such as the measles outbreak in Florida (USA) in February 2024.

Climate change is another domain heavily influenced by misinformation. Fleming described the concept of “merchants of outrage” as individuals who adeptly manipulate algorithms by disseminating content engineered to provoke outrage and polarization among viewers. They profit from the interactions with their posts, creating a financial motivation for spreading misinformation online.

“Since Elon Musk took over X (formerly known as Twitter), all of the climate deniers are back, and [the platform] has become a space for all kinds of climate disinformation. There is a connection that people in the anti-vaccine sphere are now shifting to the climate change denial sphere,” said Fleming.

Fleming referenced a 2022 UNESCO survey involving female journalists worldwide that revealed that 73% had encountered online violence, with 20% experiencing offline attacks, which they believed were connected. She highlighted the ease of creating AI-generated images and the incentivization of online misogyny monetization.

READ: Nearly 4,000 celebrities are victims of deepfake pornography – Report

While recognizing the enduring presence of AI and exploring potential solutions for its use in addressing the situation, she mentioned her team’s efforts to form coalitions and launch initiatives leveraging AI to advance engaging and factual global public health communications.

Additional initiatives entail establishing an official UN code of conduct regarding information integrity in the digital realm and engaging with UN member states during a general assembly to advocate for safe, secure, and reliable AI systems.

Fact-checker at The FactheckHub | [email protected] | + posts

Seasoned fact-checker and researcher Fatimah Quadri has written numerous fact-checks, explainers, and media literacy pieces for The FactCheckHub in an effort to combat information disorder. She can be reached at sunmibola_q on X or [email protected].


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