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Fewer Than Half of Canadians Trust ‘Authoritative Sources’ of Information: Federal Research

Fewer than half of Canadians have a high level of trust in “authoritative sources” of information such as government health agencies, public news sources, and scientists, according to internal research by the federal Privy Council.

The Privy Council report, “Misinformation and Disinformation: An international effort using behavioural science to tackle the spread of misinformation,” studied 1,872 Canadians and their “intentions to share false COVID-related headlines online,” using “behavioural interventions.”

Of those studied, 42.9 percent of Canadians reported they had high trust in official sources—specifically institutional or authoritative sources of information such as government health agencies, health-care workers, public news sources, and scientists—and low trust in social media, family, and friends.

This group, on average was significantly older, more likely to have a university degree, and have a higher income, and exhibited “low conspiratorial thinking and psychological reactance,” said the report, which was first obtained by Blacklock’s Reporter.

Two more groups were categorized in the report. A “non-trusting” group, representing 22.5 percent of the sample, had low trust in all sources, with the lowest trust in government health agencies, and the highest trust in social media.

This group, suggested the report, exhibited “relatively high conspiratorial thinking and psychological reactance, and low openness to evidence.”

Another 34.6 percent of those surveyed reported high trust in social media, family, and friends, and ranked government health agencies and scientists as the least trustworthy.

Epoch Times Photo
Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam is seen via videoconference as Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos looks on during a news conference on COVID-19 in Ottawa, on Jan. 7, 2022. (The Canadian Press/Justin Tang)

“Exposure to false or misleading statements can cast doubt on official and factual information and can erode the integrity and credibility of democratic institutions and their ability to enhance public welfare through policy measures,” the report said.

False headlines were those “deemed false by third-party fact-checking websites.”

“Who believes and spreads misinformation in the first place and why?” said the report. “Do our interventions work similarly for different sub-groups of people?”

“Relying solely on traditional top-down approaches that aim to regulate content are insufficient at limiting the immediate dangers of misinformation,” wrote researchers. “Innovative policy-making tools such as behavioural science can help provide immediate and long term solutions to misinformation.”

The report noted, “individuals’ willingness to comply with COVID-containment measures in Europe were found to be associated with their trust towards policy makers prior to the pandemic.”

During the pandemic, said the report, governments began “exploring opportunities to leverage behavioural science and experimentation in their COVID-response measures.”

The report noted that “troubling signals” emerged related to misinformation in Canada between April 2020 and April 2021, specifically “pervasive knowledge gaps” and high levels of belief in “verifiably false information about COVID-19.”

Greater “belief in misinformation,” said the report, affected “important health-related behaviors, such as intentions to get vaccinated (and boosted) against COVID-19.”

‘Behavioural Interventions’

The study tried two “behavioural interventions” on Canadians studied in the research group: an “attention accuracy prompt” and “digital media literacy tips.” The report suggested that the intention of people to share false headlines about COVID could be reduced by 21 percent with “literacy tips.”

The “accuracy evaluation prompt” gave participants a “neutral, non-COVID-19 related headline” and asked that it be rated for accuracy. Following this, the participants received 14 headlines and asked if they would share them on social media.

The “digital media literacy tips” gave people a list of things to do, including tasks such as: “investigate the source,” “check the evidence,” “look at other reports” to make sure other news sources are reporting the same thing, and “be skeptical of headlines.”

Marnie Cathcart

Marnie Cathcart is a reporter based in Edmonton.

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