Two men walk past a sign on Main Street in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Two men walk past a sign on Main Street in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Calls for government transparency in COVID data continue as B.C.’s 3rd wave wears on

Social media, where both information and misinformation can spread like wildfire, has not helped

As B.C. passes the one-year mark in its struggle against the COVID-19 pandemic, an assistant communications professor said that the province needs to keep its messaging clear and back up its reasoning.

Ahmed Al-Rawi, the director of The Disinformation Project at SFU, said that it’s hard to tell whether it’s the communication that’s faulty or the government just does not have the data.

Al-Rawi acknowledged that governments are working in an ever-changing environment as they deal with the novel coronavirus.

“People are really distracted as well as confused because…. everything is happening in a very fast way. And they don’t know what is good or bad for them and and they have all the right to feel this way,” he said.

“This process has been ongoing for over a year. And I don’t think this is sustainable, to be honest… the psychological impact of this pandemic on people, I think it’s showing now.”

Al-Rawi pointed to a plethora of government communications foibles, on both federal and provincial levels, since the pandemic began more than a year ago. Coronavirus safety measures, he noted, are a common culprit.

If you look at what happened regarding the mask issue… you know in the beginning, they health agencies here in Canada and elsewhere said you don’t need to wear a mask,” he said. “But then they reverted their position and mentioned the importance of wearing it. I mean, this kind of confusion would only distract and confuse people. And that’s probably a dangerous thing.

B.C. also waited until the fall to impose a mask mandate for indoor public spaces, despite months calls from businesses having trouble enforcing their own mask rules.

And while the benefits of mask wearing have been firmly established at this point, Al-Rawi said wording over mandatory masks in schools – which started as “guidance,” and then became a mandate – doesn’t help in communicating with already pandemic-weary people. Neither, he noted, did Premier John Horgan’s finger pointing at young people for spurring on the recent spike in COVID-19 cases.

“Where is the empirical evidence that young people are responsible for the newest spike in COVID-19 cases? I’m not seeing the empirical evidence that they are responsible for this,” he said.

That, Al-Rawi noted, cuts to a common flaw in B.C. government communication.

“I think it’s just because the tools the government is using are not that valid, or accurate in predicting and assessing the impact and the outcome of the pandemic,” he said. “I don’t think they have these necessary tools yet.”

That leaves space for misinformation, or conspiracies, to enter – the latest of which are about vaccines. Al-Rawi said that many conspiracy theories – like that vaccines cause autism, created by a now-debunked study – predate COVID-19, but that the pandemic has led to new ones, too.

“The anti-vaxxers often make use of bits and pieces of factual information, in order to show that they are right, and they have been censored or canceled by the mainstream culture,” he said.

Social media, where both information and misinformation can spread like wildfire, has not helped.

“There are these funny videos on TikTok showing that after you take the vaccination, something very weird and unstable will happen to your body,” he said. “They are making fun of it, but this could also be dangerous, because some people might get the wrong idea that vaccines are dangerous, and might end up making you lose your mind.”

READ MORE: Horgan’s COVID comments towards young people unhelpful, unfair: B.C. professor

READ MORE: B.C.’s COVID-19 indoor dining, drinking ban extending into May

READ MORE: Tougher COVID-19 restrictions in B.C., including travel, still ‘on the table’: Horgan


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

BC politicsCoronavirusvaccines

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

North Cowichan considers extending tax payment deadline by two months. (File photo)
North Cowichan considers extending deadline for property tax payments

A two-month deadline extension to Sept. 1 gets three readings

John Horn is leaving his position as executive director of the Cowichan Housing Association. (File photo)
John Horn leaving Cowichan Housing Association

Will take on role as executive director of John Howard Society in Nanaimo

Cowichan Tribes Chief William Seymour has taken a medical leave of absence but expects to return soon. (Citizen file)
Chief William Seymour takes leave from office

Seymour will return once fully recovered

A cougar was sighted in the 500 block of Cedar Avenue in Duncan on May 6 at about 9:30 p.m. (Facebook)
Cougar sighted in residential Duncan

Spotted in the Cairnsmore neighbourhood

The Lake Cowichan branch of the Royal Bank of Canada is closing. (Google)
Lake Cowichan’s RBC branch will close in November

RBC says banking needs will still be met

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to start releasing neighbourhood-specific COVID numbers after data leak

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Ladysmith RCMP safely escorted the black bear to the woods near Ladysmith Cemetary. (Town of Ladysmith/Facebook photo)
Black bear tranquillized, relocated after wandering around residential Ladysmith

A juvenile black bear was spotted near 2nd Avenue earlier Friday morning

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix update B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count creeps up, seven more deaths

445 people in hospital, 157 in intensive care

Summerland’s positive test rate is much higher than surrounding local health areas, according to internal BC CDC documents. (BC CDC)
Summerland 3rd behind Surrey, Abbotsford in daily per capita COVID-19 cases

Interior Health is rolling out additional vaccine availability to the community

Amazon is pausing its Prime Day marketing event in Canada this year amid ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at its facilities in Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Amazon Prime Day halted in Canada due to COVID-19 outbreaks in warehouses

The event was postponed to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, the company says

Ally Thomas, 12, seen in an undated family handout photo, died on April 14 from a suspected overdose. Her family says they are frustrated more public supports weren't available when they tried to get her help. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Minister says suspected overdose death of 12-year-old pushing B.C. to ‘do better’

Minister Sheila Malcolmson of Mental Health and Addictions says the government is working ‘as hard as we can’ to build a system of care for youths

At this Highway 3 check point, police officers will be asking for identification from drivers, documentation regarding the driver’s name and address, and the purpose for the driver’s travel. (RCMP)
No fines handed out at 1st COVID-19 roadblock as checks move across B.C.

Cpl. Chris Manseau says a total of 127 vehicles were stopped at a roadblock in the Manning Park area

A spectator looks on as the Olympic Caldron is relit in downtown Vancouver, Wednesday, February 12, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Small majority of B.C. residents in favour of a Vancouver 2030 Olympic bid: survey

A new survey shows a split over the possibility of public money being spent to organize and host the winter games

Most Read