Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commented on the amount of misinformation circulating about COVID-19 and the government’s response, including claims that there will be coronavirus internment camps in Canada.
The rumour began during Question Period on October 7, when Ontario MPP Randy Hillier asked if quarantine sites meant for incoming travellers who have no other place to quarantine were to be turned into “internment camps.”
Buzz spread of the false allegation, which was debunked by Trudeau today.
“We’ve seen over the past number of years a rise in concerted efforts around misinformation and disinformation on a broad range of subjects, designed to undermine people’s confidence in their institutions, in their democracies,” Trudeau said. “Some are foreign actors trying to disrupt successful democracies, others are people with extremist agendas.”
“As a government, we need to continue to stand strong, particularly during a public health crisis where the best thing Canadians can do is listen to experts, listen to doctors.”
The prime minister added that there is a “tremendous amount of noise and harmful misinformation” on the internet but Canadians need to continue to look to trusted sources of information, like Canada’s chief public health officer and regional health authorities.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said misinformation and disinformation does not help public health officials and the collective system has tried, through various means, to provide credible information to the public.
“I think there’s a part for almost everyone,” Dr. Tam said. “There’s a part for journalists who are in this room to help reveal the sort of tactics and measures that are at play, including bots and other aspects of what’s actually happening in the social media space.”
She added that there is also a role for social media platforms, who have put some measures in place like directing people to credible sites if people are using certain searches and taking down some “outrageous” disinformation.
Dr. Tam stressed that when individuals are looking at information, they need to ask themselves where it came from and if it’s credible.
“Be media smart as well as science smart,” Canada’s chief public health officer said.
In advance of a viable COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. Tam indicated Canada needs to “immunize the population against [misinformation and disinformation] before the vaccine arrives.” This includes providing information on the safety measures and rigorous processes of regulatory authorities.
She added that getting a better understanding of why people spread misinformation and disinformation is also important.