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The Effectiveness of UN Peacekeeping Operations
18 Apr 2024
Research Report
The Impact and response to Misinformation, Disinformation, Malinformation and Hate Speech in the Digital Era


Lead Author
Dr. Lotte Vermeij, NORCAP

Dr. Andrew E. Yaw Tchie, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs
Charlotte Gisler, NORCAP
Angus Lambkin, NORCAP
Angela Schweizer, NORCAP
Contributing Authors
Reagan El Kambale Mviri, Consultant
Mariam Yazdani, Consultant


Over the past decades, the use of misinformation, disinformation, malinformation and hate speech (MDMH) has contributed to the escalation of violence in environments where the United Nations deployed Peacekeeping Operations (UN PKOs), including in Rwanda and Yugoslavia.1 In today’s mission contexts, the use of MDMH and the subsequent pollution of the information environment creates significant challenges for UN PKOs, posing risks to civilians, which the UN is deployed to protect, as well as the safety and security of UN peacekeepers by targeting them individually and as groups. The widespread utilisation of modern technology in UN PKO environments raises the magnitude of the MDMH threat. In some settings, MDMH places communities and peacekeepers at risk of harm, but more broadly, MDMH places UN PKOs in ever more challenging situations, which they are often incapable of responding to. Through the misrepresentation of efforts and the distortion of perceptions, MDMH can impact the mis- sion’s (as a collective and within units/teams) ability to respond and adapt to the context, which undermines its ability to protect civilians.2

The availability of Internet access and frequent use of social media and other outlets has enabled an exponential and uncontrollable online explosion of MDMH. As a result, an evolving infor- mation disorder is mounting characterised by:

information pollution at a global scale; a complex web of motivations for creating, dissem- inating and consuming these ‘polluted’ messages; a myriad of content types and techniques for amplifying content; innumerable platforms hosting and reproducing this content; and breakneck speeds of communication between trusted peers.3

This trend has created severe risks in terms of amplified tensions and divisions during times of emergency, crisis, key political moments and/or armed conflict and is directly impacting the work of UN PKOs.

The spread of information by actors as part of hearts and minds campaigns and other infor- mation strategies to bring populations on the ground on the missions’ side is nothing new. Simultaneously, the diffusion of rumours and false information can contribute to the escala- tion of tensions between and within groups and communities and result in widespread vio- lence. Historically, information was mainly spread through analogue means, including word- of-mouth. The use of MDMH in today’s conflict settings has significantly evolved, particularly because now the focus has been not on actors or parties to the conflict, but on those trying to keep the peace. Current contexts and environments allow for a much wider and rapid spread of different types of information through new communication tools that are used online, offline, and in hybrid formats. All of these can support and contribute to the intensification and accel- eration of MDMH, impacting the conflict dynamics and the use of indiscriminate violence. The online uptake of MDMH may further aggravate these dynamics. It can undermine the stability of mission environments, lead to local conflicts and indiscriminate use of violence by non- state and state actors, impact detrimentally on human rights, and jeopardise overall processes of achieving and sustaining peace and supporting its processes.4

Therefore, this highlights how the spread of MDMH can negatively affect the work of UN Peacekeeping missions. In this report, we find that the use of MDMH is a growing chal- lenge for UN PKOs across the globe, especially in the cases covered by this report with armed rebel groups as well as the not-so-friendly host states to malign the peace operations. While freedom of expression must be protected at all costs, we do find that social media is not just weaponised within conflicts but that its use can also decisively influence how, when and whether conflicts manifest, when and where violence is manifest, and the people it targets. While the UN at different levels of operation is doing its best to tackle the challenge through working groups, support to missions through training and information and additional analysis, more support is needed from the member states through financial and resource-based means to sup- port missions to fulfil their mandates. When the spread of mis- and disinformation threatens mission personnel’s ability to deliver on their mandates, it places mission personnel at risk or triggers violence and hate with intent to harm. UN PKOs must have the capacity and the readiness to respond – without the risk of affecting information integrity on digital platforms. If nothing is done to support the UN PKOs long term in this area, the gap of understanding between the UN PKO, its staff and local communities will create environments where distrust continues to fester, which, over a long period, will undermine the legitimacy of the field mission. As a result, missions already struggle with perception or legitimacy challenges due to past his- torical inabilities and will be faced with a mountain of questions over their abilities, especially when this interferes with delivering on protection mandates and contributing to long-term, sustainable peace and development. Finally, in the longer term, UN PKOs need to shift toward preventive approaches, including proactively reshaping narratives about the UN and contribut- ing to a healthier information environment through support to local journalists. While work is underway by the UN Department of Peace Operations (DPO) Information Integrity Unit, the UN needs to widen the mandate of this unit, increase its resources, and provide support to the work it is doing. At the mission level, adopting a whole-of-mission approach across uniformed and civilian components to foster networked communication in the field will be beneficial. For this, military, police and civilian officers need further training before they are deployed to the mission and during deployments.

  1. UN. (n.d.). Hate Speech and Real Harm.
  2. Vermeij, , Bigwood, C., von Gienanth, T., Kumalo, L., Issa, S., Kone, F.R. et al. (2022). UN Peacekeeping Operations at a Crossroads: The Implementation of Protection Mandates in Contested and Congested Spaces. Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.
  3. Wardle, , and Derakhshan, H. (2018). Information Disorder: Toward an interdisciplinary framework for research and policymaking. Council of Europe.
  4. Khan, (2022). A/77/288: Disinformation and freedom of opinion and expression during armed conflicts. https://www.

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