Knowledge Translation in HealthWestern Health Sciences

Will history repeat itself? Studying Canada's evolving COVID-19 communications


News clippings from the 1919 Spanish Flu (Collage images sourced from: Pessimist Archives)

March 2020 feels like a lifetime ago.

As social media enabled our isolated experiences to converge online, the COVID “infodemic” began. Six months later, as we move into various stages of re-opening, Canadians are still actively engaging online, searching for answers and adding their questions, concerns, and experiences to a global digital dialogue.

Our team at Western University’s Lab for Knowledge Translation has been wading through a sea of information over social media. Our CIHR-funded research team is asking: What does good public health communication look like in 2020? Are we using social media as effectively as we can?

Our digital world has expanded over the last decade as social media platforms acquired billions of active users. These apps have evolved from recreational use into important tools that help us get information, connect with each other and make sense of the future. Google Trends analyses confirm that COVID-19-related searches worldwide have become the most popularly searched terms, far exceeding searches about other news, weather, or politics.


At the same time, poor health media literacy and misinformation have run rampant across our digital spaces. Communications professionals in public health are understandably struggling to keep up with evolving consumer behaviour trends. How do we break through the noise of everything from Trump to TikTok?  

Our research team is using data science methods to explore how public health officials are using social media and the impact of their messages on citizens. Here are some early trends we are seeing so far in our work:


We know this is only one piece of this puzzle.

Our team wants to help public health leaders, researchers, and policymakers explore this emerging space together. We also want to bring the public into this conversation. We can’t do it alone.

We are actively searching for industry and policy partners to collaborate on building an open-access toolkit that supports public health and health systems professionals to engage, educate, and empower citizens with accurate information. 

If you’d like to learn more and collaborate with us, connect with Gina Uppal, who is leading our partnerships work at