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Health Misinformation



            Source: OECD (2020). The role of public communication in responding to the wave of disinformation about the new Coronavirus. [Digital Image]. OECD. Link


Misinformation: false information generated without the intention of causing harm. The propagator does not know that the information is false.



Example | A lifestyle blog cites an outdated study on the necessity of drinking two litres of water per day.

Disinformation: false information deliberately generated to further a specific agenda.


 Example | A private organization generates fake statistics that associate a specific vaccine with disproportionately high death rates.

Malinformation (a subtype of disinformation): information that is based on reality, but deliberately taken out of context.


 Example | A news article accuses a government official for not complying to mask policies, using a pre-pandemic photo of the individual without a mask in public.

For the sake of convenience, this LibGuide uses "misinformation" as an umbrella term for all three types of false information, unless specified otherwise.

Disclaimer: The images used above were created and written by Kyung Joo Son, UBC MD Candidate. They are fictitious images with no relation to any person, place or event.


Infodemic declared by the WHOIn 2003, the term "infodemic" was first used to describe widespread misinformation in the context of the SARS pandemic. In April of 2020, a mere one month after COVID-19 was declared a "pandemic," the WHO called for action against a concurrent "infodemic" that "can be as dangerous to human health and security as the pandemic itself" (Cross-Regional Statement on “Infodemic” in the Context of COVID-19).


COVID-19 online misinformation in CanadaMisinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic from Statistics Canada

  • 90% of Canadians have found information on COVID-19 through online sources. Of this population, 96% have encountered information they suspected to be false or misleading, and 40% reported having believed in information later proven to be false.
  • During the first few months of the pandemic, 53% of Canadians had shared COVID-19 information online without knowing whether it was accurate.


Misinformation in Canada Report: This report, published by the non-profit Evidence for Democracy in May, 2021, synthesizes misinformation-related literature in Canadian contexts, summarizes recommended policies, and suggests how individuals and organizations can help fight misinformation.

  • The Canadian government has spent $7.2 million on literacy projects against online misinformation between 2020 and 2021 alone.
  • Government efforts are being made to criminalize the willful creation and dissemination of disinformation.
  •  Family physicians are a key asset in reducing the impact of misinformation in Canada's unique healthcare system.


Significance of Misinformation: Public health announcements, healthcare providers’ inputs and population vigilance were quintessential in helping to inform about the ongoing developments regarding COVID-19 during the peak of the pandemic. 

This highlighted the responsibility of healthcare providers and society as a whole in sharing credible and factual information in preventing adverse epidemiological health outcomes. However, this shared responsibility can lead to compounded effects from misinformation, especially when healthcare professionals are the ones responsible for circulating misinformation. 

Some of the impacts due to misinformation can be found in the examples below:

  • In 2023, The College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia issued a citation to a BC Doctor for publishing social media content that was “misleading, incorrect or inflammatory about vaccinations, treatments, and public measures relating to COVID-19”.

  • According to this study, social media was found to be a direct factor in COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, namely due to exposure to “anti-vax” conspiracies. 

  • A sharp increase in calls to poison centres was reported since 2019, concerning the “exposure to cleaners and disinfectants”, which was falsely claimed to offset the virus.