The types of false information or propaganda that can be spread by businesses are typically classified into two categories, namely misinformation, which is the unintentional spread of false or inaccurate information, and disinformation, which is the intentional spread of false, inaccurate or misleading information to promote an agenda.
Tackling the spread of false information requires balancing an individual’s freedom of speech without infringing upon other human rights. For example, the right to a free and fair election includes the right to access accurate information about the parties, candidates and other factors in order to make an informed decision to vote. The spread of false information, and in particular targeted advertising which has become increasingly prevalent, may influence people’s voting decisions. Another example is the right to health, which includes the right to access accurate information regarding health care and disease prevention. Throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, false information encouraged members of the public to engage in activities that could have endangered public health. The right to non-discrimination is the right to live free of prejudice and discrimination and is particularly problematic where the spread of information is used to target certain members of society, such as minority groups and migrants, with the purpose of inciting violence, hatred, marginalization or discrimination against such groups. The right to freedom from unlawful attacks upon one’s honour and reputation may be at risk when false information is used to target certain individuals, such as political figures, journalists, health care professionals or legal professionals, to discredit and harm their reputations.
Businesses must develop policies to monitor the factual accuracy of content they release and ensure the sources of such content are credible and based on research and fact. Businesses should develop clear social media content guidelines and policies, and ensure employees receive training on appropriate use of marketing and media platforms. Businesses should also keep track of information that is published in their name and ensure that any accurate or false information is removed as quickly as possible – particularly given the short period of time it takes for information to spread online.