UN chief tells consumer tech firms: own the harm your products cause

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gives a special address on climate action in New York

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday demanded that big consumer technology firms take responsibility and "acknowledge the damage your products are inflicting on people and communities."

Taking aim at the companies, which he did not name, and their social media platforms, he said: "You have the power to mitigate harm to people and societies around the world. You have the power to change business models that profit from disinformation and hate".

He warned that "opaque algorithms push people into information bubbles and reinforce prejudices including racism, misogyny and discrimination of all kinds" with common targets being women, refugees, migrants, and minorities.

Guterres was speaking at a news conference to launch a set of U.N. global principles for information integrity, which he called a starting point to combat misinformation, disinformation and hate speech.

"Some stakeholders carry an outsized responsibility," he added. "For them, I have a clear message: We demand action."

He said advertisers and the public relations industry must stop monetizing harmful content, citing the climate crisis.

"Creatives - don't use your talents to greenwash. PR agencies – look for clients who aren't misleading people and destroying our planet," Guterres said.

He urged media outlets to raise and enforce editorial standards and "find advertisers who are part of the solution, not the problem," while saying governments should commit to a free, viable, independent, and plural media landscape.

Guterres also told governments to: "Ensure regulations uphold human rights. Refrain from drastic measures, including blanket internet shutdowns. Respect the right to freedom of opinion and expression."

Last week, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called for a warning label to be added to social media apps as a reminder that those platforms have caused harm to young people, especially adolescents.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Kevin Liffey)