#Canada; #Covid19Misinformation; #PublicHealthCrisis; #EvidenceBasedTheories
Ottawa, Aug 3 (Canadian-Media): According to a study it was found that almost half of Canadians believe at least one unfounded theory about COVID-19, media reports said.
Researchers say the alarming rate at which conspiracy theories about COVID-19 is spread across the country, as well as the misinformation shared online warn the researchers, may push Canadians to shun important safety measures and can lead to devastating consequences.
"I think that people should be enormously concerned," said Aengus Bridgman, a PhD candidate in political science at McGill University and co-author of a study published last month on COVID-19 misinformation and its impact on public health, CBC News reported.
COVID-19 Misinformation. Image credit: Twitter handle
In a recent interview, Bridgman said that social media is used by about 16 percent of Canadians as their primary source of information on the virus.
Nearly 2,500 people were surveyed by his research team and 620,000 English language Twitter accounts were examined but Bridgman said COVID-19 misinformation also spreads on other social media platforms, including Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, Instagram and Tumblr.
A Facebook group called "Against mandatory mask-wearing in Quebec", for example, has over 22,000 members to date, while another group with a similar mission has nearly 21,000 members.
"People are dying because of these conspiracy theories and we've got to stop them," said Alison Meek, history professor at Western University, CBC News reported.
Bridgman said the speed at which these conspiracy theories circulate online makes it difficult to verify the origin of these theories.
"This is a Canadian challenge," he explained. "People across levels of education, across age groupings, across political ideas, all are susceptible to misinformation online. This is not a phenomenon that is unique to a particular community."
"All of those things are coming together right now to make these conspiracy theories a real public health crisis that's getting more and more difficult to deal with," CBC News reported.
She said conspiracy theories need to be countered with facts and evidence, and both she and Bridgman lauded social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook for removing videos and other posts that spread misinformation about COVID-19.
Both academics also said more needs to be done.