Publications

Inoculating an Infodemic: An ecological approach to understanding engagement with COVID-19 online information. 

  • Under review, American Behavioral Scientist

Abstract: As the global COVID-19 pandemic has been concurrently labelled an “infodemic,” researchers have sought to improve how the general public engages with information that is relevant, timely, and accurate. In this study we provide an overview of the reasons why people engage and disengage with COVID-19 information. We use context-rich semi-structured interviews which invited participants to discuss online COVID-19 related content they encountered. This qualitative approach allows us to uncover subtle but important details of influences that drive online engagement. Our findings suggest that researchers and public health communicators should approach engagement as an ecology of intersecting influences, both human and algorithmic, which occur over time. This information could be potentially helpful to public health communicators who are trying to engage the public with the best information to keep them safe during the pandemic. 


Emotions and Heuristics in Response to Changing Mask and Vaccine Science: A Mixed Methods Study

  • Under review, Big Data & Society

Abstract: In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, understanding how people respond to changing science is imperative for negotiating public health and education responses, which necessarily change as the pathogen is better understood. For instance, in the early days of the pandemic, because little was certain about how transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 occurred, precautions were suggested around fomites, objects thought to be contaminated with the virus. As scientific understanding developed, it is now understood that the virus is airborne (Feng et al., 2020). Consequently, public health measures and recommendations have adjusted in response (Coronavirus (COVID-19) events as they happen, n.d.). Negotiating uncertainty has always been a challenge in health communication (Christley et al., 2013; Rajkhowa, 2020). Changing science in relation to COVID-19 is further complicated by the fact that, as the World Health Organization (WHO) has noted, we are currently operating in an information environment rife with not just misinformation, but an excess of information. In this complex information landscape, some people have become more resistant to public health measures as the pandemic has progressed (Mello, Greene and Sharfstein, 2020).  

To better understand the nature of responses to changing COVID-19 science and changing health communication, we used a mixed methods approach combining big data with thick data to examine people’s responses to both current and also hypothetical changes to mask and vaccine science. By studying such responses via the blending of data sources and methods, we are able to yield insights that aid scholarly and practical understanding of the infodemic at scale. We chose to focus on mask and vaccine science specifically because both are central to COVID-19 mitigation, and both have changed over time. This changing understanding is inherent to the process of science and is therefore an unavoidable factor for effective public health responses. We proceed by situating this study in the broader literature on response to changing science. Next, we describe the methods we used, report our findings, and discuss the implications of the study for researchers and practitioners.  


COVID-19 misinformation differences in responses to public health content on Twitter and YouTube: Implications for research practice

  • Under review, Journal of Information Technology & Politics

Abstract: We collected tweets directed at the official Twitter account of the Canadian Public Health Office as well as comments to a Canadian Public Health Office press conference posted to YouTube. We used a mixed method corpus-assisted discourse analysis approach to categorize and analyze these data. We found key differences between comments directed at the public health office on each platform, namely a higher level of aggressive language in YouTube comments, and more balance in Twitter mentions. Findings suggest that studying COVID-19 misinformation on one platform in isolation does not provide an accurate picture of misinformation. To generate a fuller picture of misinformation, researchers should conduct studies across digital platforms using diverse methods. This research could influence how misinformation studies of health communication are approached in the future.  


Blog: How do people assess the credibility of COVID-19 related information? Personal beliefs a strong influence

In January 2021, we wrote a guest blog post for the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences sharing some of our research and early findings. It offers brief comments on two specific topics:

  • Assessing the credibility of COVID-19 information online, and
  • What can public health communicators do?

Read the blog here: http://www.ideas-idees.ca/blog/how-do-people-assess-credibility-covid-19-related-information-personal-beliefs-strong-influence


Report: COVID-19 Misinformation in Canada

In spring of 2020, we compiled the findings of five studies of COVID-19 misinformation in Canada. This report synthesizes the preliminary findings of these studies. It focuses on two specific areas:

• the extent to which Canadians are exposed to COVID-19 misinformation online, and

• the extent to which Canadians are believing misinformation.

Access the full report by downloading it here: