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Stop the spread of disinformation

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2 October 2023

This is a call to action: refute fake news. All people, wherever they live, have the right to make their own choices about their safety and health based on accurate information. Earlier this year, Rutgers experienced first-hand what it is like to be at the centre of a social debate in which hate and disinformation prevailed.

In societal debates, there should always be room for different views and perspectives. But these debates should be held based on facts, expertise and scientific evidence and with respect, honesty and tolerance for each other. These are the values we promote. We believe that deliberate dissemination of disinformation compromises these values and needs to be halted. 

Broader trend

Hate campaigns against relational and sexuality education are not isolated incidents in the Netherlands. Over the past year, there has been a surge in online attacks and hostility directed at public figures and organisations. A broader trend and pattern also become clear when we look beyond Dutch borders.  

The common thread is that the radical right, the anti-rights movement and conspiracy thinkers form a triad in propagating conservative thinking on gender and sexuality, and thus on relational and sexuality education in schools. The movement warns against a far-reaching ‘woke culture’ and so-called ‘gender ideology’. The latter term is used as an umbrella under which to hang everything they do not like, from emancipation of marginalised groups and acknowledging racism and discrimination to all kinds of items perceived as threatening.   

Spreading disinformation is frequently used. This creates social unrest, distrust and polarisation. People are mobilised against something they do not object to. Such as the healthy and safe development of children and young people. 

Facts over fiction

Let’s stay focused on the main goal: every person deserves a healthy, safe life and the freedom to make their own choices. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child both include the importance of providing accurate and complete information to all. These principles are rooted in fundamental values like fairness, respect, tolerance, love, and safety that everyone should enjoy. 

Exactly how we give substance to these rights and values can and should be the subject of discussion. After all, these choices concern us all. But in these discussions, let’s put expertise over disinformation and facts over fiction. In this there is an important role for governments but also for society. As a collective, it’s crucial that we uphold these significant values and prevent their erosion. Do not join disinformation campaigns. Let’s prevent sexual health and education being exploited by anti-rights movements! Challenge disinformation, ensure equitable access to accurate information and engage in fair and respectful dialogues. 

Luc Lauwers, Rutgers national programmes manager.

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