Over the past few years, a growing barrage of disinformation has targeted UN peacekeeping operations, particularly the missions in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), Mali (MINUSMA), and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). This includes false allegations that UN peacekeepers are trafficking weapons to armed groups, supporting terrorists, and exploiting natural resources. This disinformation makes it harder for peacekeeping operations to implement their mandates and has put the safety of peacekeepers at risk.
This paper provides an overview of the recent rise in disinformation against MINUSCA, MINUSMA, and MONUSCO. It also examines how these three peacekeeping operations have been addressing disinformation and the challenges they have faced. While these initial efforts have tended to focus on strategic communications, disinformation is not only a strategic communications issue; it affects all mission components, and effectively tackling it requires situating it in the broader political context and understanding its drivers.
This paper offers the following questions the UN Department of Peace Operations and individual missions could consider as they develop policies, guidelines, structures, and activities to address disinformation:
- How can missions develop a cross-cutting, strategic approach to disinformation? Disinformation is more than a technical or tactical issue; it is a political and strategic issue that requires the proactive attention of mission leaders.
- How can missions better monitor and analyze disinformation both online and offline? Monitoring disinformation is critical not only so missions can address it; tracking rumors also has intrinsic value by helping missions better listen to and understand the sentiments of local populations.
- How can missions respond to disinformation more quickly? For many UN personnel, the slowness of the UN response is one of the biggest challenges inhibiting their efforts to address disinformation.
- How can missions reshape anti-UN narratives? Anti-UN disinformation is woven into a broader anti-UN (and anticolonial) narrative that is grounded in both great-power politics and legitimate public grievances. In countering individual falsehoods, missions should consider whether and how they could also respond to this broader narrative.
- How can missions contribute to a healthier information environment? From the perspective of civil society, the most important shift the UN can make would be to focus more on supporting local journalists.
- Does the scale of the problem call for a more decisive shift in approach? Any shift in approach should be premised on the principle that under no circumstances should missions respond to disinformation with disinformation of their own.