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B.C.'s lack of COVID-19 social media messaging leading to uninformed youth: experts

Last Updated Apr 7, 2021 at 9:57 pm PDT

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — Health communications researchers say B.C. has dropped the ball when it comes to social media messaging, and that may be one of the reasons younger Canadians do not see critical information.

Dr. Heidi Tworek is the associate professor of history and public policy at UBC. She says she’s surprised the province hasn’t done more to keep young people on social media informed.

“If we don’t engage in as many channels as we can to reach people with clear and consistent communications, we’re leaving half of a really important tool on the table,” Tworek says.

So far, the province doesn’t seem to have an account on the exceedingly popular TikTok app.

And the largest health authority in the province, Fraser Health hasn’t posted anything to its TikTok account this year. The last video Fraser health posted was about ‘COVID fashion sense’ in December. The social media account has 114 followers.

Vancouver Coastal Health last posted a video to the app a month ago.

“Get things out there on TikTok. Just those short 30 seconds … it can be something that is changing the seriousness and the gravity that the public health officials display when they’re talking in press conferences but translates to social media channels.”

B.C.’s premier John Horgan addressed young people directly last month about the latest jumping COVID case numbers, seeming to blame young people for the rise.

“Do not blow this for the rest of us,” he said.

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However, Alice Fleerackers — a scholarly communications lab researcher says shaming is not a constructive way to communicate, adding young people like many people in the province have made significant sacrifices.

Dr. Johanna Sam who works in UBC’s faculty of Educational and Counselling Psychology says far more can be done to educate young people.

“Engage young people directly, and really think about diversifying cultural messaging, and including different languages and messaging that makes sense to them,” she says.

Although the province has Twitter and Instagram accounts focused on public health messaging, Tworek feels far more could and should be done.

“It’d be great to see public health officials perhaps investing some time into presenting information in different ways that make immediate sense to somebody who’s just scrolling on Twitter.”

In an email statement to CityNews, the Ministry of Health said “…From early on in the pandemic, government has put an emphasis on reaching people in different age groups through social media… Government will continue to make every effort to meet young people where they are online, in order to communicate important COVID-19 updates to people throughout B.C.”