COVID-19 misinformation: new research launches at RRU and Ryerson

March 11, 2020

The spread of misinformation, stigma and fear related to COVID-19 is the subject of a new collaborative study underway by Royal Roads University and Ryerson University researchers.

Supported by nearly $478,000 in funding from the Government of Canada, the cross-country research teams will develop bite-size education initiatives, such as infographics and other digital media, and study online social networks to improve people’s understanding, knowledge, and beliefs about the novel coronavirus.  

“Complex societal problems such as COVID-19 require interdisciplinary efforts and thinking,” says Royal Roads Prof. George Veletsianos, Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning and Technology. “We hope to help people learn about COVID-19 in effective and efficient ways. Specifically, we want to improve the public's understanding of the virus and limit the spread of misinformation.”

The team will develop education initiatives in a variety of cultural contexts and make their materials and resources available for others to use freely.

“Misinformation represents a huge risk during times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. Our research is poised to not only help people get the life-saving information they need now, but also help to identify best practices to help people access the information they need in future crises scenarios,” says Royal Roads Assoc. Prof. Jaigris Hodson. “By adopting a user-focused approach to developing microlearning, we’ll be able to target COVID-related information to those people who need it most in ways that make them most likely to engage with it, and share it with others.”

The two-year study will also investigate how COVID-19-related misinformation propagates across various social media platforms, led by Assoc. Prof. Anatoliy Gruzd, Canada Research Chair of Social Media Data Stewardship and Philip Mai, director of Business and Communications at the Social Media Lab at the Ted Rogers School at Ryerson University. The Ryerson team will also develop a real-time information dashboard to help the public track efforts to debunk coronavirus misinformation online.

“Coronavirus misinformation is spreading quickly on social media,” he says. “We are starting to see that many of the tactics and tools used to spread politically-motivated misinformation are now being used to spread misinformation about COVID-19.”

Results of the project will include publications, an interactive website, infographics, animated videos, reports and online simulations.

“We’re eager to collaborate with other researchers studying closely-related topics and rapidly share findings, resources, and materials,” says Veletsianos.