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On 18 January 2023, the United Nations System Staff College (UNSSC) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) hosted a webinar on the theme of Freedom of Expression in the Digital Environment.
While the digital era has presented opportunities for enhancing freedom of expression, new challenges have emerged. The spread of disinformation and hate speech has been deployed and amplified by digital technologies, often intimidating and discrediting media, especially targeting female journalists and impacting societies in their various democratic processes.
In the face of widespread disinformation and hate speech, people are increasingly in self-reinforcing informational echo chambers with entirely different sets and interpretations of facts. Elections in different parts of the World and policy initiatives that intend to protect democratic values have been severely affected by these issues. During COVID-19, access to quality information has been a life-and-death issue.
These dynamics and the lack of media and information literacy undermine critical processes and actors for vibrant democracies.
Moreover, according to UNESCO's World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development: Global Report 2021/2022, global awareness of journalists' digital threats has increased in recent years. Online harassment, mass and targeted surveillance, data storage and Internet shutdowns are among the many ways digital tools have jeopardized journalists' safety and integrity. Both state and non-state actors use these tactics to gain access to confidential information, intimidate journalists and curb people’s access to information.
In light of these worrying trends, UNESCO and other UN agencies are working with Member States, Internet platforms and civil society to take policy-driven action to promote a safe online space for freedom of expression and access to information.
The webinar welcomed the following speakers: