Older Ontarians most involved in online spread of COVID-19 myths, study finds

Almost six per cent of Ontarians online are spreading misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic, according to exclusive new research conducted on behalf of the Ontario Medical Association.

Almost six per cent of Ontarians online are spreading COVID-19 misinformation, medical association says

Research commissioned and published by the Ontario Medical Association says the vast majority of people who spread COVID-19 misinformation online are adults between the ages of 55 and 64. In this photo, a pedestrian walks by a poster promoting conspiracy theory websites in Ottawa in January 2021. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

A new study suggests Ontario residents between the ages of 55 and 64 are most involved in spreading misinformation about COVID-19 on social media.

Published by the Ontario Medical Association (OMA), the research found that six per cent of Ontarians online have spread misinformation about COVID-19 and most are older adults, the organization said in a news release Wednesday.

Men and women in that age group were almost equally involved in sharing misinformation and the research found many posters had been accessing right-leaning websites and U.S. politics blogs, said the OMA, which represents Ontario's doctors.

The study by Advanced Symbolics Inc. applied artificial intelligence technology to Twitter posts made between March 24, 2020 and March 24, 2021.

It found engagement was highest in eastern Ontario communities, including Ottawa, its surrounding areas and rural areas.

Association president Dr. Samantha Hill says the study shows misinformation needs to be addressed across all communities and demographic groups.

Anti-lockdown sentiment

Partly fuelled by social media, partly fuelled by the COVID-19 conspiracy movement's persuasion tactics, misinformation has contributed to anti-lockdown sentiment, COVID-19 denial and vaccine hesitancy, said Imran Ahmed, founder of the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) — a non-profit organization based out of Washington, D.C. — which CBC's Marketplace collborated with on a recent project into misinformation online.

"Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram have become the primary superspreaders of misinformation in our world," he said. "That is a shocking failure to act on misinformation that was handed to them on a silver platter," he added.

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