Kenney needs to be ‘crystal clear’ in discrediting COVID-19 conspiracies, says expert

CALGARY – A Facebook live question about COVID-19 being part of ‘The Great Reset’ conspiracy was met with firm resistance from Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.

But an expert says Kenney could be – and should be – even more clear in discrediting misinformation.

Alberta’s premier was adamant that conspiracy theorists were doing a disservice to the dissemination of accurate public-health information.

“It’s not Justin Trudeau, it’s not the great reset, it’s not QANON, it’s not a conspiracy. It is just a reality. And folks, for those of you who are in deep denial about this, wake up and smell the coffee. Alright?” said Kenney during the Facebook live Tuesday night.

“That is not a conspiracy, it is not politics, it’s not a preference, it’s not fake news. It’s cold, hard numbers.”

Kenney, however, also included a comment that appeared to undermine his initial message.

“You have the luxury of circulating the conspiracy theories, and hey, everyone needs a hobby, so go for it,” he said later in the live stream.

One expert says the messaging needs to be even more clear.

“The good news is he’s clearly frustrated by conspiracy theories and he clearly talks about what the reality is,” said Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair of Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta.

“This is not a benign hobby. This is an action that causes real harm.”

But whether out of frustration or an attempt at humour and even if it was only a few seconds out of his 10-minute answer – Caulfield says the premier risks emboldening and legitimizing conspiracy theorists.

“And I understand that it may have been said out of frustration and we have to be careful not to take these kinds of comments out of context, but that’s exactly what conspiracy theorists are going to do. They’re going to take it out of context and say that this is my right and if this is what I enjoy doing, the premier just told me I can continue doing it,” said Caulfield.

Even if there are only a few conspiracy theories, Caulfield says that misinformation can be damaging.

“Their rhetoric can have an impact on the broader public, on what’s been called the ‘movable middle’. Conspiracy theorists can just inject doubt.”

He adds this highlights again during a pandemic, or anytime, that facts matter and how important it is to choose the right words.

“The premier was frustrated, he is frustrated with the conspiracy theories, but we really shouldn’t joke about this. He needs to be crystal clear,” he said.

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