Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Teresa Tam is urging Canadians to acknowledge the problem of misinformation and disinformation and to not spread it. Correct information is key to stemming the spread of COVID-19 and “is key to saving lives,” she said in a statement.
Tam pointed out that misinformation is false information that is not created with the intention of harming others. But disinformation is created with the specific intention of causing harm. Canada’s chief spymaster recently spoke publicly about foreign interests spreading disinformation in an effort to erode cohesion and undermine democracies.
Canada’s Public Health Agency has issued public information every day since the beginning of the pandemic. Tam acknowledged that it is not easy for people “to keep up with what feels like an avalanche of new information everyday.” But she asked Canadians to go beyond headlines which may mislead, and to pause and check information before sharing it on social media. She warned against false logos or references and asked that people check legitimate sources to validate whether information is correct.
Sources suggested for checking information
Tam suggested people use information from the Government of Canada’s or the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 websites, provincial and territorial health ministry sits, or local public health units or other trusted institutions like universities or health organizations. She asked people to “consider what the majority of experts are saying over what one or two individuals may have to say.”
Report misinformation, urges Tam
Tam mentioned studies show that when we are feeling anxious or scared, we are less able to recognize misinformation and these emotions are exploited by those spreading disinformation. Finally, Tam urged Canadians who come across misinformation to report it on the social media platform where they see it, to speak empathetically with friends and family members about why something is untrue and to share sources of accurate information instead. “Being aware and prepared to navigate information is essential to ensure that we can plank both the epidemic and infodemic curves,” said Tam in the statement.
Of particular concern at the moment, is misinformation that may make people hesitant to get the vaccine against COVID-19, a situation that could hinder efforts to attain herd immunity and curb the pandemic. Before the onset of the pandemic, the World Health Organization had already flagged vaccine hesitancy to be one of the world’s top ten health threats.