The organization has already launched a “social listening” surveillance program powered by AI
Few organizations have done more to promote the idea that governments should censor disfavored views of COVID policies than the World Health Organization (WHO), which calls health-related dissent and debate an “infodemic.”
Now, a new investigation by Public reveals a coordinated effort by the WHO to use future medical crises as an excuse for sweeping censorship. Instead of trying to rebuild public trust after COVID-19, the WHO is attempting to enshrine some of the worst abuses of state power from the last three years.
The Associated Press, Reuters, USA Today, and FactCheck have all recently published articles stressing that the WHO’s new proposed pandemic treaty is simply an effort to improve international coordination and is not a plot to silence the public.
But Article 18 of the WHO’s proposed treaty does indeed call on member states to “tackle false, misleading, misinformation or disinformation” and to manage “infodemics” through regular “social listening” initiatives. The WHO has already started a similar surveillance system to track so-called “misinformation” online. The WHO’s Early Artificial Intelligence–supported Response with Social Listening (EARS) program uses AI to monitor trends on social media.
In response to Public’s questions about the WHO’s “social listening” program, a WHO spokesperson told us, “EARS platform is not designed to detect misinformation.” The tool, he said, is “useful when trying to understand and prioritize topics of concern.”
But the reference paper to which the WHO spokesperson linked as an example of its approach mentions the word “misinformation” 22 times. What’s more, it explicitly argues that social listening can help authorities “counter misinformation.”
To be sure, some commentators have overstated the power the pandemic treaty would grant the WHO. “The claim that the accord will cede power to WHO,” the WHO spokesperson told Public, “is quite simply false. It’s fake news.” And we agree that coordination among national governments, in terms of sharing health information, is important.
But a new global treaty is unnecessary for more information sharing, and the treaty would indeed impact national sovereignty. Us For Them, a UK children’s rights non-profit, notes that the treaty is being proposed alongside new amendments to the International Health Regulations (IHR), the WHO’s legally binding pandemic preparation and response document.
These IHR amendments, explains Us For Them, will allow the WHO to mandate financial contributions by member nations for pandemic funds, mandate vaccine manufacturing, and override national safety approval processes for medical products. The amendments will also give the WHO supranational powers to require medical treatments, examinations, and quarantines.
These plans are made even more alarming by the WHO’s recent adoption of the EU’s digital health certificatesystem. During COVID, this digital system was used by all EU member states to prevent unvaccinated people from crossing borders. Many countries also used the health certificate to prohibit unvaccinated people from accessing restaurants, bars, gyms, stadiums, salons, theaters, hotels and other spaces.
The WHO aims to expand its power to restrict and censor members of the public despite recent revelations that much of what social media platforms and governments deemed to be “misinformation” about COVID turned out to be entirely true. Facebook admitted to censoring “often-true” information about vaccine side effects, while Stanford Internet Observatory’s “Virality Project” encouraged Twitter and other social media platforms to do the same.
The WHO’s efforts would build on past abuses. Just last year, for instance, the WHO promoted a video of Dr.Peter Hotez, Director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, saying that “anti-science” kills more people than “gun violence, global terrorism, nuclear proliferation, or cyberattacks.” Through the video, Hotez and the WHO compared the act of spreading “misinformation” to an act of violence or war.
Hotez’s statements were so hyperbolic and demonstrably false that they should be considered “disinformation” under the WHO’s own definition, and since Hotez himself almost certainly knows better. The episode shows that WHO leaders view disfavored views as a disease to be eradicated rather than as a fundamental human right to be protected.
The WHO’s efforts are amidst a broader crackdown on freedom of speech by elites in nations including Ireland, Germany, Brazil, New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom to prevent health-related “misinformation.” Now, the WHO is working in concert with the United Nations and the European Union, which are also aiming to clamp down on freedom of expression in the name of safety.
Why is that? And what can be done to stop its proposed censorship treaty from going into effect?
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