Savvy social media campaign launches to combat misinformation about COVID-19

Project is one of many drawing from health law professor Timothy Caulfield’s research

Helen Metella - 20 May 2020

Health law professor Timothy Caulfield reached one of his milestones for helping Canadians counter misinformation about COVID-19 when a national social media campaign launched on Wednesday.

“Check First. Share After” reminds Canadians of the importance of fact checking information about COVID-19 before blithely sharing it by retweeting or posting on social media platforms.

With snazzy graphics and a custom URL that drives users to a site that shows them how to check sources before sharing information online, the project promotes several messages that researchers hope are easy to digest and to follow.

These include: be sure that the information you share online is legitimate; know that by pausing before sharing you are helping to reduce the spread of false information; and that slowing the movement of bad information can actually reduce the impact it has on the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada.

"Asking people to pause before they share is a simple, evidence-informed strategy that can make a real difference,” said Caulfield. “Studies have consistently found that nudging people to think about accuracy can make a meaningful impact."

The social media initiative is part of a project called Critical Thinking in the Age Digital Age: Countering Coronavirus Misinformation. That project is a partnership between the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta, and MediaSmarts, a Canadian non-profit organization for digital and media literacy. It is funded by a federal government grant through the ministry of Canadian Heritage.

In addition to the social media campaign, the critical thinking project will soon include an explanatory infographic, publications and other tools to help the public recognize and navigate around the misinformation that is in wide circulation about COVID-19, such as false causes, cures and conspiracy theories.