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.