The UN Special Rapporteur (SR) on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression solicited public input on the effect of disinformation on democracy, development and human rights in preparation for her June report to the Human Rights Council. On Feb. 15, 2021 the Charity & Security Network (C&SN) submitted input focusing on “use of disinformation to attack civil society organizations through legal processes, including litigation, regulatory complaints and legislative/parliamentary campaigns. The input then sets out the negative impact disinformation has on civil society rights to freedom of opinion and expression.

C&SN acknowledged the complex challenge of protecting freedom of speech and urged the SR to include a focus on the damage to these rights suffered by the targets to disinformation campaigns. It noted that:

Civil society organizations are particular targets of politically motivated disinformation campaigns.  In many instances this is due to their exercise of the right of expression, including human rights defense and advocacy.  Globally human rights defenders, humanitarian, peacebuilding and other groups that work in some of the world’s most conflict-ridden environments speak out against abuses of power by both states and non-state armed actors. This has generated backlash that includes increased legal and regulatory restrictions on civil society and disinformation campaigns intended to discredit and silence them.

The harm caused includes reputational damage, legal costs and diversion of resources from beneficial programs, loss of adequate access to financial services and online platforms, and reduced funding.

The comments explain that this backlash is especially severe for human rights defenders and civil society organizations working in Palestine or that support Palestinian rights.  Many have been the targets if disinformation campaigns and examples of attacks by politically motivated groups that use disinformation to file legal proceedings are provided.

C&SN provides a list of specific recommendations for the SR’s report, noting that “It is important to recognize the harm done to targets of disinformation campaigns. The first step is to build awareness of this aspect of the issue and identify red flags that stakeholders should be aware of. It is then incumbent on all stakeholders to do a better job of assessing the credibility of information they rely on and to give targets of disinformation opportunities to correct the record.”

The full text of C&SN’s comments is here.

Other comments addressed the issue of “deplatforming” and the European Legal Support Center filed comments describing the impact of disinformation on advocates for Palestinian rights.