By Jenn Watt
Maybe it’s the pressure we’re all feeling in self-isolation, the worry over finances, or the pervasive anxiety that we or our loved ones may get sick. Whatever it is, it seems bad information is making the rounds more rapidly and with greater intensity than ever before.
From bogus cures for COVID-19 to racist fear-mongering to conspiracy theories, we’re being inundated with misinformation and disinformation every day through social media, phony websites and sometimes through group emails from friends and family.
And that’s not counting the wild and dangerous remarks coming from the U.S. president.
Last week people in Minden were greeted by COVID-19 hoax posters plastered with a mysterious brown substance on store windows in the downtown. Bizarre claims about 5G, mask wearing, and the reality of the virus itself were featured on the materials.
It’s unlikely that many people would see those posters and change their behaviours, eschewing public health recommendations, however, COVID-19 hoax messaging isn’t just being shared through late-night downtown forays. Those messages are spreading on Facebook newsfeeds, on message boards and on websites built to look like reputable news organizations.
The best defence against bad information is accurate information, however, with the economic downturn triggered by the necessary business closures across the country, this, too, has taken a hit.
We learned last week that Postmedia had laid off 80 staff and had permanently shuttered 15 community newspapers in Ontario and Manitoba. According to work done by Ryerson University, 50 news outlets (48 of them community papers) have temporarily or permanently closed over a six-week period across Canada.
At a time when it’s more important than ever to have access to reliable information, events are conspiring to make it harder to find.
Solutions lie both in the personal and political realms. On Saturday, leadership of the country’s major daily papers asked the Government of Canada to follow the lead of France and Australia to legislate that Google and Facebook pay for copyrighted content created by the media, from which they profit, and share the ad dollars that come from it. This is an obvious and fair way of bolstering news organizations, giving them a much needed income stream.
On a personal level, we must continue to support news organizations (if they offer subscriptions, consider paying for one) and call out fake stories when we see them. Check the source before you share a story on Facebook – is it coming from a reputable organization? Check the date it was published – is this story still relevant? Consider whether you’re reading a satirical website meant to look like the news, or one that’s coming from a biased source. And if you see something suspicious, say something.
Good information is in increasingly short supply; now more than ever we need to defend our access to real news.