CLIMATE CHANGE

Disinformation threatens lives in humanitarian emergency in Southern Brasil, experts warn

The dissemination of false information may compromise relief and evacuation operations in flood-affected areas of Brazilian state, jeopardizing the safety and well-being of victims. Ensuring information integrity is a key focus of the Brazilian G20 Presidency, within the framework of the Digital Economy Working Group.

05/08/2024 6:30 PM - Modified 20 days ago
Disinformation could deepen the vulnerability of victims of the climate emergency in Rio Grande do Sul
Disinformation could deepen the vulnerability of victims of the climate emergency in Rio Grande do Sul

Thousands of lives hang in the balance amidst the catastrophic floods ravaging the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul. The world stands witness to the harrowing scenes of entire cities submerged, and heart-wrenching reports of individuals losing everything. Unfortunately, the outlook for short-term relief remains grim. Compounding the effects of these extreme weather events is the rampant spread of disinformation, further exploiting the vulnerability of those affected. This dangerous narrative thrives on panic and chaos, compounding the challenges faced by those already in distress.

The response efforts by governments and civil society to address the crisis, provide information on relief and assistance for those displaced, designate shelters, disseminate weather alerts, and share flood prevention measures are being hindered by fraudulent information circulating on websites and social media platforms. This misleading content aims to erode trust in institutions, impeding the evacuation of high-risk areas and the timely rescue of individuals during this critical and uncertain period.

Joelle Rizk, advisor to the International Committee of the Red Cross Protection Department, has been monitoring the impact of disinformation on populations in contexts of conflict and humanitarian emergencies such as the one happening in Southern Brasil. Rizk highlights that digital risks affect individuals based on their unique circumstances and vulnerabilities, emphasizing that these risks “do not occur in isolation”.

They are not detached from the context in which people find themselves; rather, they introduce an additional layer of complexity and vulnerability to individuals, compounding their existing challenges. In humanitarian settings, the more vulnerable and impacted people already are, the harder they will be affected by digital risk," she analyzed.

They are not detached from the context in which people find themselves; rather, they introduce an additional layer of complexity and vulnerability to individuals, compounding their existing challenges. In humanitarian settings, the more vulnerable and impacted people already are, the harder they will be affected by digital risk," she analyzed.

In this context, Rizk emphasizes that social media and online news are often used by many as sources of information, regardless of the presence of conflict or humanitarian emergency. For this reason, ensuring that these spaces provide reliable content is essential, as it impacts their awareness of the situation and their capacity to make decisions. "On what basis do they make decisions? On information that is reliable and accurate. It is also important that they know where to access services," she advocated.

Government measures

The government-sponsored Brasil Contra Fake website provides accessible information, countering the spread of disinformation and ensuring that citizens have access to reliable and accurate data.

During the humanitarian emergency in Rio Grande do Sul, the Brazilian government prioritized combating misinformation as a key communication strategy. This ensures that individuals affected by the floods and related risks have access to clear information to tackle challenges with dignity.

"Many have lost everything they had: loved ones, homes, pets… Amidst this devastation, people are particularly fragile and vulnerable to false information. In this context, disinformation can inflict even deeper emotional wounds on those already reeling from significant losses. We are talking about humanity, respect, and putting ourselves in other people’s shoes here," stressed George Marques, the Brasil Contra Fake campaign coordinator at the Social Communication Secretariat (SECOM) of the Brasil’s Presidency of the Republic.

SECOM has called upon national justice agencies to investigate the dissemination of fraudulent information on social media platforms, which poses a threat to assistance operations for victims of the climate tragedy and may induce widespread panic. These investigations aim to identify “any illicit activities or potential crimes associated with spreading misinformation and to strengthen the credibility and operational capacity of our institutions during crises", reads the document.

Ensuring information integrity is a top priority for the Brazilian G20 Presidency, with ongoing discussions within the Digital Economy working group focused on implementing measures to achieve this goal.

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