Men (52%) and women (48%) in that age group were almost equally involved in sharing misinformation, but the study was not able to establish why the older adults group is responsible for so much misinformation on social media.
The study found many social media posters had been accessing right-leaning websites and U.S. politics blogs, and one U.K.-based website, BitChute, was the source of 26 per cent of the posts.
Some of the misinformation posted on social media included claims that COVID vaccines cause polio and the assertion vaccines contain microchips used for mind control.
“We were surprised to see that so many 55- to 65-year-olds are having these conversations,” said Dr. Samantha Hill, president of the OMA, who is a cardiac surgeon.
“These are the very people who should be next in line to get their COVID vaccine.”
The study by Advanced Symbolics Inc. applied artificial intelligence technology to Twitter posts made between March 24, 2020 and March 24, 2021.
The company said it looked at a randomized controlled sample of 200,000 people in Ontario, and used different classifiers such as the topics they posted about to determine their age.
Company CEO Erin Kelly said the age pattern is concerning.
“These are the age groups that are getting the sickest, you would presume they have friends who have become ill, or who have even possibly died,” Kelly said on Wednesday.
“These are the groups that … it’s most important for them to get the vaccine because they are most at risk. That’s why it’s a concern.”
Kelly said some of the misinformation is targeted towards the older adult age group.
The material, she said, can also spread as people see more of their friends posting it.
“It’s a bit of an echo chamber,” she said.
The researchers found engagement was highest in eastern Ontario communities, including Ottawa.
Hill says the study shows misinformation needs to be addressed across all communities and demographic groups.
“The best antidote is to provide clear, consistently high quality, factual information,” she said.
With files from The Canadian Press (Holly McKenzie-Sutter), CBC News