MONUSCO digital army fighting mis- and disinformation

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Four United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions in Africa are actively preventing disinformation campaigns aimed at undermining mission credibility.

The four are MONUSCO in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), MINUSCA in the Central African Republic (CAR), MINUSMA in Mali (until the mission closes at year-end) and UNMISS in South Sudan.

The initiative is part of fighting back against falsehoods that trigger tensions, violence or even death the world body notes, adding it is monitoring how mis- and disinformation and hate speech can attack health, security, stability as well as progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“It’s clear business as usual is not an option,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a June policy brief. “The ability to disseminate large scale disinformation to undermine scientifically established fact poses an existential risk to humanity and endangers democratic institutions and fundamental human rights,” he wrote.

This has seen the African missions make use of smartphones, editing apps along with innovative approaches to build a “digital army” aimed at combating mis- and disinformation on social media networks and beyond. UN missions in Africa and elsewhere report disinformation, in the case of MONUSCO as far back as 2019, via social media campaigns targeting their peacekeeping work.

“There is a war going on through social media, the radio and traditional news outlets,” MONUSCO head Bintou Keita said. “Fighting deadly disinformation has been a painful curve to learn of this new battlefield, but the mission is now proactive on social and other media platforms to help stop its spread.”

To fight disinformation, UN peacekeepers put new tools into the hands of civilians of all ages, including 15-year-old Blessing Kasasi in DRC.

An activist advocating for the rights of women and children, she joined a workshop in Kinshasa with 30 young people to learn about detecting “fake news” and countering it with the truth.

Workshop trainer Guillaume Kingh-Farel said disinformation is “used as a weapon of war to undermine MONUSCO’s peace efforts in the DRC”.

As such, the MONUSCO-supported workshop  to train “a digital army capable of detecting false information” by producing content with a smartphone and editing software and spreading objective, credible information through “relay clubs” disseminating these messages through own networks.

In DRC, MONUSCO initiatives continue to reach communities plagued by disinformation triggered tensions. This includes recruiting digital experts, building multimedia products and reaching out, especially social media savvy youth, Keita said.

With these tools, MONUSCO tries to “beef up capacity to monitor and be present on digital platforms so we are not always reactive, but in an anticipatory mode”.