The United Nations has released a new Policy Brief around one of the key themes in the upcoming Summit of the Future – Information Integrity. Making a political priority of the question of access to reliable information – and the need to address misinformation, disinformation and hate speech, it point to a number of roles for libraries.

The Summit of the Future, due to be held in September 2024, will bring to a close a key phase in the development of the UN that started with the celebration of its 75th anniversary in 2020.

It will, notably, bring together a range of initiatives in key areas identified as being essential to the UN’s ability to deliver on its mission into the future. These areas were first set out in Our Common Agenda, published in 2021, and on which we have already shared a briefing.

With the SDG Summit in September of this year representing a key checkpoint, the UN Secretary General has been publishing policy briefs on each of the relevant issues, such as the Global Digital Compact (see our news story), and now on Information Integrity.

This article sets out what is in there, what it means for libraries, and what more needs ot be done.

Information Integrity

The idea of information integrity represents a way of looking more positively at how we can address the problems of misinformation, disinformation and hate speech. As the brief itself defines it, ‘Information integrity refers to the accuracy, consistency and reliability of information’.

That this is a priority is made very clear – a lack of information integrity is seen as harmful to progress on global, national and local issues, to human rights, and to progress towards the SDGs. While there may not be consensus around definitions, the Secretary General argues that this should not hold back efforts to tackle real problems.

The brief is clear that these are not new issues necessarily, but that the emergence of digital platforms and their potential to spread such information faster and further does mean that they are a particular issue. Yet it leaves open the way to a more positive vision of a safe and more inclusive space for all.

Nonetheless, there is welcome recognition that the spread of misinformation is often linked to a failure to deliver a fairer, more tolerant, more inclusive world in general. Progress towards the SDGs as a whole will help in this regard.

It is also honest about the complexities – it underlines that digital technologies, and platforms in particular, have brought many benefits. It also stresses the risks of the fight against misinformation, disinformation and hate speech being abused to restrict free speech and the rights of access to information.

Other important points are around the need to support the inflow of independent and reliable information by protecting the free press, the underlining of the fact that both states and non-state actors are responsible here, and concerns around platforms’ own business models.

The draft code of conduct makes proposals in each of these areas, and is worth a look.

Relevance for libraries

 The simple fact that the UN Secretary General is underlining the importance of universal access to reliable information is, in itself, an extremely welcome step. Too often, the importance of this – and so of the people and institutions who provide it – is taken for granted.

It is also welcome that the brief is clear that these questions are also complex. There is no effort to claim that technological tools will resolve everything, or an effort to lay the blame on any one actor. It also maintains a focus on delivering a digital environment that works for people.

Another strong positive is the emphasis on user empowerment. This covers both ensuring the rights of platform users to have some control over their data and their experiences online, but also broader digital literacy, better equipping them to deal with misinformation, disinformation and hate speech when they come across it. Given the desire for future-proofed solutions, this will be essential.

We should also celebrate the calls for greater support for quality independent media. The brief is realistic about the media itself sometimes being the problem, and so proposes a combination of enabling laws, direct support, and promotion of ethics. The same goes for funding for independent fact-checking organisations, which are playing an ever more important role.

Concerning platforms, the call for more transparency about policies applied around these issues, and the results achieved, also promises to offer highly valuable information that makes it possible to enforce public accountability. Linked to recommendations about how to ensure that it does not pay to spread misinformation, disinformation and hate speech, this could be a powerful way of driving change without taking steps that restrict speech and access to information unduly.

Finally, it should be welcomed that the report is clear about the need to ensure that solutions work everywhere. Access to and the capacity to use data risks being concentrated in richer countries, as does the ability to regulate platforms. By pointing this out, the brief underlines that work going forwards will need to work to ensure everyone can benefit.

Areas for improvement

While the policy brief is indeed a very positive document, there are a number of areas which could be strengthened in order to help it achieve the goals it sets out to achieve.

Perhaps the most important is to ensure that we are promoting access to all information, not just that which comes through the press, or from government. These are clearly important, but are inadequate on their own. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights underlines the right of access to information of all kinds, not just that produced through media or government.

Connected to this is a major gap around reference to the role of science, and in particular open access and open science. The possibility to access ethically produced research outputs can play an important role in combatting misinformation and disinformation, and there is no mention of this.

The section on user empowerment could also be strengthened. It would be highly relevant to mention the work of libraries explicitly here – they already are doing the work in so many cases.

The brief should also stress that we need people of all ages not just to be able to value information integrity, but to have the skills to recognise it. A further role will be in helping people exercise the rights they have to control their own data, or what they see on platforms.

We should also not forget the value of wider efforts to build literacy, civic education and engagement, and to celebrate diversity and difference.

Linked to the recommendations around enabling research into platform behaviour (where it would be helpful to make clear that there should be no undue restrictions on who has access), it is important to provide a reminder of the importance of archiving.

This applies both to enabling data collection to allow for the study of the spread of information, but also to ensuring that any tools put in place do not lead to the destruction of vital evidence in, for example, the fight against human rights abuses.

Finally, it would be helpful for all to relate this work more clearly to that going on elsewhere. There are strong and clear overlaps with the proposed Global Digital Compact, as well as with UNESCO’s work around platform regulation. It will be helpful for governments, civil society organisations and libraries alike to know how these initiatives fit together.


We look forward to engaging with the United Nations on the next steps in this process.