Nationwide COVID mandate protests fueled by online misinformation: expert

Social media is often described as an echo chamber which is why one expert on misinformation says online platforms are what have led to the widespread COVID-19 mandate protests across Canada.

Ahmed Al-Rawi is an associate professor at SFU who studies social media and disinformation. He says that as much as people might try to escape it, people are too comfortable absorbing information that aligns with their beliefs, backgrounds, and values.

“We are all living in these bubbles,” he says. But for some fringe groups, he says they are more secluded and detached from other bubbles. “That’s the danger,” he says since it’s easy for false information to spread on social media amongst groups like these.

“Some of these fringe groups will circulate controversial pieces of information, involving a lot of lies and misinformation about different issues; could be politics could be the pandemic. And that’s the problem because what happened is that they a lot of people, and these communities would just like fall into the rabbit hole. So they consume one link after the other. And this never ends.”

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He says misinformation kills people, pointing to the false narratives around COVID vaccines.

“It’s not a joke. False information can lead to disasters.”

But it’s not up to the social media platforms to stem misinformation Al-Rawi says. It’s up to us.

He says education on misinformation needs to be taught at a very young age, along with a focus on holding each other accountable when false facts are being circulated.

He also suggests media, literacy groups, NGOs and governments should help people by being more critical.

“It’s everyone’s responsibility here.”

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