Watch out for and don’t spread COVID-19 disinformation

Often on social media disinformation is disguised as having come from someone trustworthy

Do you believe everything you read? With Covid-19 safety tips almost everywhere you turn, you might want to first think about where the information, and sometimes disinformation, is coming from.

A recent list entitled “Wisdom from Dr. Bonnie Henry” has been shared, tweeted and posted on social media over the past week.

This 16-item list contains false and unsubstantiated statements claiming to be those of Dr. Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer (PHO).

This is a provincial example of a much larger problem occurring worldwide called disinformation.

After reading the list of wise words from Dr. Henry, I became skeptical because some of the statements were contradictory to the messages that we have been hearing from the Provincial Health Office for the past four and a half months. In B.C., we have become quite enamoured with Dr. Henry and have, for the most part, been following her orders. So, how were we so easily swayed to share this list?

Disinformation is often written as if it is coming from an expert. In this instance, the statements in the list were contradictory to the information we receive in the provincial updates and online at the BC Centre for Disease Control.

Checking the source of information is key to determining the validity and authority of the information provided.

In an article written on the vancouverisawesome.com website, the PHO’s representatives have stated that this list did not come from Dr. Henry.

But what if I have heard some of these statements elsewhere?

The list of statements provided information that some of us want to hear. One of the items on the list stated that wearing masks for a long period of time can affect oxygen levels. I have seen this line of disinformation floating around on social media as well. Researchers and clinical experts have disputed this with evidence.

Further to this, evidence is constantly emerging during this pandemic. What might not have been directly recommended early on is now recommended (such as wearing masks when you are not able to maintain physical distancing) and is tricky to navigate. This makes me ponder, how do we know what is true and what is disinformation?

Check the information against other sources. What have we already been told by the PHO? Look at government websites, such as the BCCDC where the province is trying hard to coordinate information and share it with the public. If you are still not convinced, look at the Government of Canada’s webpages on COVID-19.

One step further, check it against other experts in the field of infectious diseases. Ask yourself, who is making these recommendations? What are the reasons for these recommendations? Has the evidence changed?

One final note, be careful not to spread disinformation. Spreading disinformation can be harmful to our communities. Without scrutinizing the information we share with our friends and families online, we become part of the problem. If you are unsure if what you are reading is factual or not, try Canada’s Centre for Digital and Media Literacy approach. This Centre encourages people to “Check First” and “Share After”. Check out their website on how to combat identifying and sharing disinformation: checkthenshare.ca.

Be safe online by being skeptical of what you are reading, talk it over with others, validate with other information and share it only when you are sure it is the truth.

Trina Fyfe, PhD, is the Health Sciences Librarian for UNBC and the Northern Medical Program

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