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

Just Posted

The Princeton Food Bank will eventually be located on First Street in the former United Church 
building. (Spotlight photo)
Princeton’s food bank to get new downtown home

Baptist church acquires former United church building

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
65 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Overall, B.C. is seeing a decrease in COVID-19 cases

FILE - In this April 19, 2021, file photo, Keidy Ventura, 17, receives her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in West New York, N.J. States across the country are dramatically scaling back their COVID-19 vaccine orders as interest in the shots wanes, putting the goal of herd immunity further out of reach. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
5 more deaths, 131 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

Those 18-years and older in high-transmission neighbourhoods can register for the vaccine

Nuns of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, carry some of her relics during a vigil of prayer in preparation for the canonization of Mother Teresa in the St. John in Latheran Basilica at the Vatican, Friday, Sept. 2, 2016. In which city did she do much of her charitable work? (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
QUIZ: How much do you know about these motherhood issues?

In honour of Mother’s Day, take this 10-question quiz

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains in the B.C. legislature, May 13, 2019. (Hansard TV)
VIDEO: B.C. to provide 3 days of sick pay for COVID-19 absences

Province will support employers on cost, labour minister says

Have you seen David Melanson?
Kamloops RCMP searching for missing Vernon area man

David Melanson was last seen in the Kamloops area

A GoFundMe page has been launched to alleviate the financial burden for “Captain” Kelly, a former Peachland School District bus driver who was recently diagnosed with stage three lung and lymphatic cancer. (GoFundMe.com)
Fundraiser launched for former Peachland school bus driver diagnosed with cancer

“Captain” Kelly was recently diagnosed with stage three lung and lymphatic cancer

Brad MacKenzie, advocacy chair for the ALS Society of B.C., says having research projects in the province allows people here to have access to cutting-edge treatments now being developed. (B.C. government video)
B.C. funds research chair for Lou Gehrig’s disease at UBC

Pandemic has cut off patient access to international projects

In this Monday, March 15, 2021 file photo a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine is pictured in a pharmacy in Boulogne Billancourt, outside Paris. Questions remained Wednesday about the future of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in Canada, as Manitoba limited use of the shot and Ontario announced it planned to save an incoming shipment to use as second doses. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Christophe Ena, File
Questions remain about the future of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot in Canada

More than two million Canadians have received AstraZeneca and 17 have been confirmed to have VITT

A Mountie issued B.C. RCMP’s first ticket for non-essential travel May 1. (Black Press Media files)
Driver ticketed, told to ‘return to Lower Mainland immediately’ by Vancouver Island police

The motorist was originally pulled over for driving-related offences May 1

Children walk back to their classroom while wearing masks and physical distancing at St. Barnabas Catholic School in Scarborough, Ont., in October, 2020. A group of B.C. teachers has issued an open letter calling for the relaxation of non-pharmaceutical interventions for children in B.C. schools. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)
Group of B.C. teachers calls for easing of pandemic measures for students

Teacher group says ‘response to COVID is out of balance to the cost our youth are paying’

Most Read