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

Hundreds gathered for a candlelight vigil Friday evening (May 7) to remember 29-year-old corrections officer Bikramdeep Randhawa, who was killed in last weekend’s brazen daylight shooting outside North Delta’s Scottsdale Centre mall. (James Smith photo)
Hundreds gather to remember victim of North Delta shooting

Corrections officer Bikramdeep Randhawa, 29, was killed in what police say was a targeted incident

Surrey-White Rock MLA Trevor Halford and Surrey South MLA Stephanie Cadieux. (Contributed photos)
BC NDP ‘chose to create a system of chaos’ by holding back COVID-19 data: Cadieux

South Surrey MLAs criticize provincial government after BCCDC documents leak

Flags flown at half mast out front of Fraser Regional Correctional Centre for slain corrections officer Bikramdeep Randhawa. (Neil Corbett/ The News)
Public vigil and flying flags at half mast done to honour slain prison guard

Maple Ridge corrections officer Bikramdeep Randhawa, 29, is being remembered in a number of ways

TEASER PHOTO ONLY
Surrey woman a face of World Ovarian Cancer Day campaign in London, New York

‘It’s so important we find better treatments,’ Catherine Eiswerth says

The map shows the number of COVID-19 cases for the week of April 25 to May 1. The darkest areas indicate communities with a daily average of more than 20 cases per 100,000 population. (BC Centre of Disease Control)
Surrey and Abbotsford battle for top COVID hotspot in Fraser Health

Two communities are among areas across province showing highest transmission

(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

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

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Mandeep Grewal was gunned down outside an Abbotsford bank in October 2018. Police said a violent gang war to control drug-line territory was going on at that time. Drug charges have now been announced against seven people. (FILE PHOTO: John Morrow/Abbotsford News)
7 people face 38 charges related to gang drug activity in Abbotsford and Mission

Police say investigation began in 2018 into expansion of Brothers Keepers’ drug line

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

Most Read