Canadian researchers analyse the spread of Covid-19 misinformation online

December 16, 2020

As local and global information about COVID-19 continues to shift rapidly, social science and humanities researchers are investigating the nature of misinformation and conspiracy theories, methods of transmission for false information, and the impact of fake news on our behaviours and psychological well-being. 

A multidisciplinary team from the Université de Sherbrooke (UdeS), along with international partners, are compiling a macro-analysis of responses to COVID-19 related information from a broad range of sources and platforms. 

Canadian survey results compiled as part of the project show the pervasiveness of misinformation online.  

  • 38.4% believe that their government is hiding important information about COVID-19 
  • 15.0% believe that the pharmaceutical industry is involved in spreading COVID-19 
  • 52.7% of respondents were aware that they had been exposed to news about COVID-19 that proved to be false 

"From these early findings, we can deduce that at least one in 10 people in Canada believes some sort of conspiracy about the cause of the current pandemic," summarizes Prof. Marie-Ève Carignan, a co-investigator in the study and a specialist in political and crisis communications. Other UdeS researchers on the project include Prof. Gabriel Blouin-Genest, Prof. Marc D. David, Dr. Mélissa Généreux, and Prof. Mathieu Roy.  

Meanwhile, Royal Roads University researchers, in collaboration with a team at Ryerson University, are seeking a better understanding of Canadians' motivations for engaging with online content. In preliminary findings Prof. Jaigris Hodson, Prof. George Veletsianos and Prof. Shandell Houlden have found that while content that is entertaining or emotional proves to be highly engaging, people also seek out content that fills gaps in their knowledge. Online users will readily share information that seems likely to keep themselves, their friends, and their family safe; and they will share content in an effort to correct misinformation. To learn more about this research, check out our blog article. 

Preliminary research also shows credibility to be a subjective measure determined by a number of factors. Levels of credibility may be based on the expertise of the information's source, an individual's existing beliefs and values, and whether the information's source seems to be acting in a way that aligns with their message.