UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations launched a new initiative Thursday to sign up millions of "digital first responders" around the world to counter misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic and spread fact-based information and advice to their networks of family, friends and followers.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, who announced the initiative, said: "We cannot cede our virtual spaces to those who traffic in lies, fear and hate."

"Misinformation spreads online, in messaging apps and person to person," the U.N. chief said. "Its creators use savvy production and distribution methods."

Guterres said scientists and institutions like the United Nations need to reach people with accurate information that they can trust to counter the misinformation and that is why the U.N. is launching the initiative called "Verified."

It is asking interested people around the world to sign up to become "information volunteers" — also called "digital first responders" — at https://www.shareverified.com and to share a daily U.N. feed of verified information that counters misinformation or fills an information void.`

U.N. Undersecretary-General for Global Communications Melissa Fleming, said: "In many countries the misinformation surging across digital channels is impeding the public health response and stirring unrest."

"The most pernicious misinformation and conspiracy content spreads via messaging apps, peer to peer, spreading online in some cases faster than the virus," she said at a news conference, singling out efforts that are exploiting "the crisis to advance nativism or to target minority groups."

She said the Verified initiative will not only counter misinformation but celebrate acts of humanity and contributions of refugees and migrants, and make "the case for global cooperation."

Fleming said polls say that "people are hungry for information they can trust and they're turning toward institutions and scientists in ways we haven't seen in decades."

"The role of the U.N. is needed more than ever before in providing that kind of trusted voice and the science and the facts," she said.

The U.N. said the Verified initiative is a collaboration with Purpose, one of the world's leading social mobilization organizations, and is supported by the IKEA Foundation and Luminate, the philanthropic organization funded by Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay.