TORONTO – About six per cent of Ontario residents are spreading online misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic – and most of them are older than people might assume.
New research conducted on behalf of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) shows Ontarians aged 55 to 64 are the most engaged online with COVID-19 hoax topics, with men (52%) and women (48%) almost equally involved.
OMA officials say it’s not clear why that age group is responsible for so much misinformation on social media, but it is concerning given many of them are now eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.
“This new data demonstrates this ongoing issue of misinformation needs to be addressed in every community and demographic group,” stated Dr. Samantha Hill, OMA president, in a March 31 press release.
“The best antidote is to provide clear, consistently high quality, factual information.”
Hill added, “Ontario’s doctors have been combatting COVID misinformation throughout the pandemic, and these new insights make us even more committed to providing evidence-based facts to stamp down the misinformation on social media.”
Among online spreaders of misinformation, men tend to talk about the government using COVID-19 to further its own interests, while women are focused on variants and government as the source of COVID-19 and why the vaccine is to be feared.
The research found that in many cases, Ontarians spreading COVID-19 hoax theories have been accessing right-leaning websites and blogs focused on U.S. politics.
Interestingly, 26% of misinformation came from one website, OMA officials stated.
Other findings of the OMA research includes:
- COVID-19 fears had been declining but are again increasing;
- social media misinformation about COVID is also high among men in the 45 to 54 age range;
- there has been a rise in conversation about frustration over the vaccine rollout, coinciding with the rise of concern about variants and the third wave of the pandemic; and
- women are more likely to engage in online conversations about the third wave, while men are expressing their frustration about the vaccine rollout.
“We encourage everyone to seek facts from credible sources like doctors,” said OMA CEO Allan O’Dette.
“It’s only by separating the facts from the fiction that we will make sound decisions that will protect us, our loved ones and our communities.”
Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (WDGPH) spokesperson Danny Williamson agreed.
“There is a lot of COVID-19 misinformation out there (especially online) … In general, we encourage people to make sure they’re using information from trusted sources,” Williamson told the Advertiser.
For reliable information about COVID-19 vaccines, Williamson suggested residents can access the WDGPH vaccine information link.
For general information about the pandemic, visit wdgpublichealth.ca.
The OMA data was collected by Advanced Symbolic Inc., which used artificial intelligence methodology to build a representative sample of Ontarians from publicly available social media and glean insights into what people are saying about COVID.