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Asia-Pacific Dashboard Digest | Notes from the Asia-Pacific region, 23 Oct. 2020 Related reading: Notes from the Asia-Pacific region, 16 Oct. 2020

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Dear, privacy pros.

Since things have been relatively quiet on the privacy front, I thought I might take a moment to reflect on the increasing importance that information, or more importantly, the right information, may have on the decisions we make, and the impact these decisions may have on others and the world we live in.

The World Health Organization has previously released a joint statement on the “COVID-19 infodemic,” setting out very clearly how an over-abundance of information about the disease and its treatment and, in particular, misinformation can potentially undermine and jeopardize the global effort to bring the pandemic under control.

A number of subsequently published studies have tried to quantify exactly how big the threat is. One academic paper suggests that at least 800 people around the world may have died within the first three months of 2020 as a result of misinformation around the virus, and about 5,800 have been hospitalized due to false information on treatment.

Another research study found that increased susceptibility to misinformation negatively impacts a person’s compliance with public health guidance on safety measures, as well as their willingness to be vaccinated against the virus. I think it is clear that in this area, misinformation can truly be considered a “life and death” issue.

While not quite on the same level of significance, the amount of misinformation and disinformation (there is a difference) surrounding the U.S. presidential election and COVID-19 is similarly concerning. “Fake news” on other topics, including voter fraud, have been peddled all over social media and will no doubt have an appreciable impact on the outcome of the presidential race. This Privacy Perspectives article contains a good summary of the impact of false or misleading information may have on the election and democracy as we know it. A recent news article in the Singapore Straits Times reinforces this and brings to mind an earlier NYT op-ed calling Mark Zuckerberg the most powerful unelected man in America.

The big social media platforms have already responded by taking appropriate actions to stem the flow of "fake news." Facebook has banned ads discouraging people from getting vaccinated and shut down the page of a political party in New Zealand for spreading misinformation about COVID-19. Twitter has flagged Trump’s tweet claiming immunity against COVID-19 and imposed more restrictions and warning labels ahead of the U.S. election. Facebook and other tech giants have also formed a coalition to safeguard and secure the election, and Facebook has said it would ban all forms of political advertising on the network one week prior to the election.

One can and should ponder what the role of the privacy professional is in all of this. As April Doss eloquently puts in it the Privacy Perspectives article mentioned above: "IAPP members are particularly well suited to be both at the forefront and in the center of informed, constructive conversations on how to address these challenges: how to preserve the most beneficial impacts of social media platforms while protecting individuals and society at large from the platform’s most harmful impacts."

I leave you with that parting thought and wish you happy reading!

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