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UN Secretary-General Urges Tech Giants to Tackle Harm: ‘Acknowledge the Damage You Inflict’

 |  June 24, 2024

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday called on Big Tech companies to take responsibility for the negative impacts their products are having on individuals and communities. During a press conference to introduce the UN’s new global principles for information integrity, Guterres emphasized the urgent need for these Big Tech firms to “acknowledge the damage your products are inflicting on people and communities.”

Aiming at Social Media Platforms

Without naming specific companies, Guterres targeted social media platforms in particular, highlighting their role in spreading disinformation and hate. “You have the power to mitigate harm to people and societies around the world,” he said, according to Reuters. “You have the power to change business models that profit from disinformation and hate.”

The Dangers of Opaque Algorithms

Guterres warned that the opaque algorithms used by these platforms often push users into echo chambers that reinforce harmful prejudices, including racism, misogyny, and various forms of discrimination. He noted that vulnerable groups such as women, refugees, migrants, and minorities are frequent targets of these algorithms.

Related: US Tech Giants Accept European Union’s ‘Gatekeeper’ Classification

New UN Global Principles for Information Integrity

The UN Secretary-General’s remarks to Big Tech companies came during the launch of a set of global principles aimed at combating misinformation, disinformation, and hate speech. Describing these principles as a starting point, Guterres stressed that certain stakeholders, notably tech firms, carry an “outsized responsibility” and issued a clear demand for action.

Guterres also called on advertisers and the public relations industry to stop profiting from harmful content, especially concerning the climate crisis. He urged creatives to avoid “greenwashing” and advised PR agencies to seek clients who are not misleading the public or harming the planet.

Media and Government Responsibilities

Addressing media outlets, Guterres urged them to raise and enforce higher editorial standards and to seek advertisers who contribute positively to society. He also called on governments to support a free, viable, independent, and plural media landscape and to ensure that regulations uphold human rights without resorting to extreme measures like blanket internet shutdowns. “Respect the right to freedom of opinion and expression,” he stated.

Echoing Concerns from the US Surgeon General

Guterres’ comments align with recent statements from U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who last week suggested that social media apps should carry warning labels due to the harm they can cause, particularly to adolescents.

Source: Reuters