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

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

District of Clearwater meetings are open to the public. The meeting agendas and past meetings minutes can be viewed on the DOC's website. Every meeting has time allocated at the end for comments from the public.
District of Clearwater hires new chief adminstrative officer

The new CAO will arrive at the end of June.

A medical worker prepares vials of the COVID-19 vaccines, Chinese Sinopharm, left, Sputnik V, center, and Pfizer at a vaccine centre, in the Usce shopping mall in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Serbian authorities are looking for incentives for people to boost vaccination that has slowed down in recent weeks amid widespread anti-vaccination and conspiracy theories in the Balkan nation. The government has also promised a payment of around 25 euros to everyone who gets vaccinated by the end of May. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
38 new COVID-19 cases, more than 335k vaccines administered in Interior Health

Interior Health also to start targeted vaccinations in high transmission neighbourhoods

FILE PHOTO
Second doses of COVID-19 vaccine will be available, as AstraZeneca supply runs low: Interior Health

Province expecting large volumes of Pfizer BioNTech as age-based cohort immunization program ramps up

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

Keith MacIntyre - BC Libertarian
Penticton’s Keith MacIntyre new leader of the B.C. Libertarian Party

The Penticton businessman was voted in by members of the party on May 8

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a 'person of interest' in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
Man sought in suspicious Kootenay death found in Lake Country

Philip Toner is a person of interest in the death of Brenda Ware

Vernon North Okanagan RCMP reported to 287 mental health calls between Jan. 1, 2021, and May 1. (Black Press files)
‘It’s not the police’s responsibility to deal with mental health calls’: Vernon RCMP

RCMP remind public to take care of mental health and well-being, while better solutions are sought

Thompson Rivers University campus is in Kamloops, B.C. (KTW file photo)
Thompson Rivers the 1st B.C. university to supply free menstrual products

The university will offer the products this September

Fraser Health is using ‘targeted’ vaccination clinics in high-risk areas of the Lower Mainland. (Fraser Health photo)
B.C.’s COVID-19 decrease continues, 515 new cases Tuesday

426 seriously ill people in hospital, up from 415 Monday

The site of Sunfest, Laketown Ranch, will be open for camping this summer. (Citizen file)
Sunfest country music bash won’t be shining on B.C. in 2021

Annual Vancouver Island Festival cancelled due to COVID-19, along with Laketown Shakedown

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation elected chief councillor Moses Martin, who was also Chantel Moore’s grandfather, speaks to media in Port Alberni on Aug. 16, 2020, during a visit from NDP leader Jagmeet Singh following the police shooting of Chantel Moore. (Elena Rardon photo)
Mother of 2 shot by police in critical condition, says B.C. First Nation chief

Community ‘devastated’ by third member of 1,150-person Vancouver Island nation shot in less than a year

B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham promotes the government’s BuyBC food program in 2019. (B.C. government)
Money running out for fresh fruit, vegetables, milk in B.C. schools

‘Looking at ways to support this type of program,’ minister says

Most Read