Those who oppose lockdown measures and infringements to personal freedoms are touted as conspiracy theorists, claims one research group's study. The study, published last month, found that misinformation about coronavirus is rampant in Canada, however, much of what is being called "misinformation" are merely views that oppose the Trudeau government's handling of the pandemic.
City News reported that the "anti-mask movement" is just one facet of a growing movement of disinformation around the COVID-19 pandemic. The culprit behind the dissemination of this disinformation? Social media.
"I think that people should be enormously concerned," Aengus Bridgman said, a PhD candidate in political science at McGill University and co-author of a study published in July about COVID-19 misinformation and the impact it has on public health.
The study found that people are more likely to be exposed to misinformation the more they rely on social media as a primary source of news. It was found that about 16 percent of Canadians used social media as their main source of information on the virus, Bridgman said.
Bridgman's team surveyed a total of 2,500 people and observed 620,000 English-language Twitter accounts, though he did say that other social media platforms take part in misinformation as well.
He draws attention to a Facebook group called "Against mandatory mask-wearing in Quebec," noting that it had 22,000 members at the time of the study, while a separate group with a similar objective had nearly 21,000 members.
It is social media groups such as these, Bridgman concludes, that create and disseminate falsehoods such as saying that the World Health Organization (WHO) is biased and cannot be trusted.
The WHO has come under justifiable scrutiny since the outbreak of the pandemic on a number of fronts. The first is that WHO's chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, suggested that countries keep their borders open following news in February that China had a total of 17,000 cases and 361 deaths. Ghebreyesus said at the time that 151 cases and one death had cropped up in 23 countries outside China.
This came at a time when the US, Australia, and Singapore were denying entry from those traveling from China in an effort to stifle the spread of the virus.
"There is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade. We call on all countries to implement decisions that are evidence-based and consistent. WHO stands ready to provide advice to any country that is considering which measures to take," Ghebreyesus said.
It turned out that the WHO was incorrect in their assessment of the seriousness of the virus, with a total of 18 million people being infected at the time of this writing.
President Donald Trump noted in a letter the WHO's "alarming lack of independence from the People's Republic of China," drawing on reports that the WHO had ignored credible information of a virus coming out of Wuhan in December of 2019. There were also reports from Taiwan and the medical journal The Lancet that detailed "China's slow response in reporting to the WHO, and the WHO's 'conspicuous silence' with regard to China's failures to act to contain the coronavirus."
As a result, Trump moved forward in defunding the WHO.
A second study was published in May at Carleton University, City News reported, which indicated that 46 percent of Canadians believed that "the virus was engineered in a Chinese lab" and "drugs such as a hydroxychloroquine can cure COVID-19 patients." Those who believe these two propositions are considered arbiters of misinformation.
Information was released in February that suggested the novel coronavirus may have originated at the Wuhan Centre for Disease Control (WCDC) and the Wuhan Centre for Virology based on a report from the South China University of Technology.
The two science labs, located just 280 metres from the Huanan fresh market—the location where the virus was originally claimed to have originated—may have been the actual epicenter of the outbreak according to a report by Biologists Botao Xiao and Lei Xiao.
Anna Slatz reported that someone in Wuhan known pseudonymously as "MonkeyMan" had been posting regularly on the state of Wuhan hospitals through a VPN-protected Twitter account, revealing how crowded the hospitals were and how little medicine they had.
MonkeyMan confirmed in January that his parents had been infected with the coronavirus, and was afraid that he might be next.
It was not long after this that MonkeyMan deleted all of his posts and replaced it with a single tweet praising Chinese president Xi Jinping, asking for forgiveness. He has not responded to messages or sent out a tweet since.
It is clear that the Chinese government did not want information about the coronavirus being released.
The most recent so-called conspiracy theory is the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine in treating the virus. Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube deleted a video that went viral, featuring a group of doctors discussing the positive effects of hydroxychloroquine in treating the contagion. The campaign to delete the information ended in Twitter deleting Trump's tweet of the video and the temporary restriction of Trump Jr.'s account.
Founder of America's Frontline Doctors, Dr. Simone Gold, lost her job because she touted the limited success of hydroxychloroquine. She appeared on Tucker Carlson's show last week, saying: "We’re here because we feel as though the American people have not heard from all the expertise that’s out there all across our country."
City News reported that Alison Meek of Western University concluded that these so-called COVID-19 conspiracy theories are similar to the ideas borne out of the anti-vaccination movement.
The WHO has proven that it did not have a grasp on the coronavirus, leaving whole nations vulnerable to the contagion. Though the idea the virus began in a Wuhan lab is not conclusive, there is substantial evidence to make the hypothesis reasonable. And many doctors have come out in support of hydroxychloroquine because they have seen, firsthand, the efficacy of the drug.