For my first post on this blog, I did not feel comfortable jumping right into the writing of an article related to planetary science. The subject being still new to me, it just felt easier to talk about a social issue for now. In fact, I am very concerned about the mediocre quality of information that is shared on social medias and the potential impacts that it may have. If the world has witnessed the consequences of lies and misinformation in the United States, its consequences, in Québec, have (hopefully) not made international headlines. Below is brief description of the situation.
Radio X, source of misinformation before it was cool
Donald Trump has definitely made false information cool. Not really, but let's admit that he proved something : lies and partial facts can lead to success. But before misinformation was cool, Radio X, a local radio station based in Québec city, made false information its branding. Radio X is a "talk radio", with conservative political views and affinities with local far-right groups. It has been criticized numerous times over the years for homophobic and racial slurs; for spreading hate towards ecological groups and for its poor quality of information.
It is important to understand the importance of Radio X as a media to portray further the situation of misinformation in Québec. The influence of Radio X as a local radio station is larger than it may seem : internet and social medias have allowed Radio X to access a wider audience.
While traditional medias, such as newspapers and television news adopted a center-left or center-right editorial, Radio X has become "the" niche for extremist opinions. So when Donald Trump and conspiracy theories revolving around him rose on the internet, Radio X was already a fertile ground for these conspiracy theories to rebirth under a new form in Québec.
Alexis Cossette-Trudel, the guru of the gurus
Alexis Cossette-Trudel was a popular figure on Youtube, where he created his own channel : Radio-Québec. He used his platform to promote a variety of conspiracy theories, where he kept repeating that Donald Trump won the US 2020 presidential election, that Joe Biden was a pedophile and a satanist; and other crazy stuff related to the Q-Anon mythology.
Cossette-Trudel was also heavily criticizing public health measures, falsely claiming that they were the result of a totalitarian state. He made numerous false claims about the vaccine, stating that it was a tool of a so-called "New World Order" to control the masses.
His influence among Québec conspiracists was notable, and many other internet figures tried to imitate him. Seeing the relative success of Cossette-Trudel and his ability to gather substantial donations ($) from his viewers, quite a few other personalities rose on internet and tried to launch their own channel.
The consequences of misinformation
Up to now, I can think of two deaths in Québec that have allegedly been caused by misinformation. Indeed, there is the death of a 40 years-old, healthy man, that used to train at the Mega Fitness Gym. The gym made headlines in the last few weeks, because its owner, Dan Marino, was opposing strongly to sanitary measures, believing that the COVID-19 pandemic was a hoax and that the virus did not exist. Marino has been interviewed many times at Radio X, where he invited customers to train at his gym without masks and without proper social distancing, which was of course illegal. A few weeks later, his gym was the site of an important COVID-19 outbreak with 581 confirmed cases. Dan Marino, the owner, has been infected with the coronavirus and has spent more than a week in intensive care. An other customer, Étienne Desrochers-Jean, died after he was infected to the coronavirus, with no prior known health issues, according to his relatives.
An other death that made headlines was Gisèle Beaudoin's, who was a fierce supporter of conspiracy theories. Gisèle Beaudoin had had the chance of getting vaccinated, but she refused the vaccine on behalf of her beliefs. After being infected with the coronavirus, she has spent a few days in intensive care, where she has allegedly regretted not getting vaccinated before passing away.
Where will this lead?
So far, these public personalities that have been spreading false information about the COVID-19 pandemic have been protected by what they call "freedom of speech". I think we have to question ourselves and maybe set boundaries to freedom of speech. The very, very delicate exercice of setting boundaries to freedom of speech may become necessary when the spread of information that goes against established facts endangers the well being of society.