Quebec doctors fear the spread of misinformation as the TikTok ban forces them off the platform
When dr. Joseph Dahine created his TikTok account last year, he never imagined that he would gain almost 37,000 followers – just because he did his job.
“I never thought people would want to hear so much about ICU and critical care and health care, but they do,” he said.
Dahine, an intensive care specialist at Cité-de-la-Santé Hospital in Laval, uses the platform to share what’s going on behind the scenes at work, fight misinformation about COVID-19 and other illnesses, and even recruit nurses.
“It’s a people thing and so showing the human aspect is something I’ve loved doing and it seems to resonate with people,” he said.
But on Wednesday, Dahine and several other Quebec doctors said goodbye to their loyal audience after receiving a notice from their employers saying they are no longer allowed to create or share TikTok content.
In a letter sent to Dahine and colleagues Tuesday by the local health authority in Laval and viewed by CBC, staff were told they are prohibited from using TikTok “to generate and share content, recruit staff or for any other purpose “.
“So a personal phone, a professional phone… you can’t use TikTok to produce content, regardless of the purpose of your content,” Dahine said.
The letter states that steps will be taken in the near future to detect the presence of the app on employees’ phones or prevent it from being downloaded at all.
‘This is a public health problem’
By being “selectively biased” against professionals who produce quality content backed by science, Dahine says, he now worries that people who use TikTok as their primary source of information will be exposed to misinformation.
“My concern is huge because if the users stay on the platform but the content creators – the good ones – leave, the user will only be exposed to poor quality content and that is not good for society,” he said.
“It can lead to social disruption.”
Dr. Mathieu Nadeau-Vallée, a senior anesthesiologist who works at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital in Montreal, also posted a farewell video for his nearly 88,000 TikTok followers on Wednesday. He said several doctors in Quebec have received emails telling them to remove the app on their personal phones.
Nadeau-Vallée, known to many as “Doctor TikTok,” received an award last year for his efforts to debunk misinformation about the app at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Disinformation about vaccines was rampant on social networks, especially on TikTok — a platform made all the more dangerous because of its powerful algorithm that created echo chambers,” he said in a statement to CBC on Thursday.
“So I decided to counterbalance by providing content backed by scientific facts and responding to some misinformation viral videos. My ultimate goal was to empower people to make an informed decision about the vaccine, in a context in which this decision could be vital.”
He said it is “essential” to have scientists and doctors on TikTok.
“This is a public health problem,” he said. “The fight against disinformation is a primary objective of the [World Health Organization] and is increasingly being referred to as ‘infodemic’,” he said.
Both Dahine and Nadeau-Vallée said they will keep their accounts open so users can still view and use the hundreds of health-related videos they’ve posted in the past.
CISSS goes against government guidelines
Following the federal government’s lead, Quebec banned the application on government phones on Feb. 28, citing privacy concerns because the Chinese government has a stake in TikTok’s owner, ByteDance, and laws that allow the country to access user data.
However, both the federal and state governments said employees can continue to use the app on their personal devices.
When reached for comment on his letter to his employees, the CISSS de Laval declined to answer why his TikTok ban applies to healthcare workers’ personal phones and other questions about their personal use of the app.
In a short statement, it said it respects the guidelines of the Ministry of Health.
However, in a statement to CBC Thursday, the Health Ministry said the TikTok ban will apply to Quebec government mobile devices, “otherwise, using social media for personal use and on non-governmental devices will remain a personal… choice which is allowed.”
Dahine, for his part, says his local board of health rules are too vague and don’t address the root of the problem.
“At the moment the ban only covers content production, content generation for that one platform, so it’s not necessarily in line with the nature of the issue we’re reading about, which is that the app itself collects information it shouldn’t collect,” he said.
“I don’t want to defend a dangerous product, but if it is dangerous then it should be banned for everyone.”