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Quebec doctors fear spread of misinformation as TikTok ban forces them off platform

When Dr. Joseph Dahine created his TikTok account last year, he never imagined he’d amass nearly 37,000 followers — simply for doing his job. 

“I never thought that people would want to hear so much about the ICU and critical care and the health-care stuff, but they do,” he said. 

An intensive care specialist at Cité-de-la-Santé hospital in Laval, Dahine has been using the platform to share what goes on behind the scenes at his job, fight misinformation about COVID-19 and other illnesses and even recruit nurses. 

“It’s a human business and so showing the human aspect is something that I’ve enjoyed doing and it seems to resonate with people,” he said. 

But on Wednesday, Dahine and several other doctors across Quebec said goodbye to their faithful audiences after receiving a notice from their employers saying they’re no longer allowed to create or share TikTok content.

In a Tuesday letter sent to Dahine and his colleagues 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, to recruit personnel or for any other purpose.”

“So a personal phone, a professional phone … you can’t use TikTok to produce content, no matter what the purpose of your content is,” Dahine said. 

The letter said measures will be put in place in the near future to detect the presence of the app on employees’ phones or to prevent it from being downloaded altogether.

‘This is a public health issue’

By “selectively biasing” against professionals who produce quality content backed by science, Dahine says, he now worries 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 — are leaving, then the user is only going to get exposed to poor quality content and that is not good for society,” he said. 

“It could lead to social disruption.”

Dr. Mathieu Nadeau-Vallée, a senior anesthesiology resident working at Montreal’s Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital, also left his nearly 88,000 TikTok followers a goodbye video on Wednesday. He said several doctors across Quebec have received emails telling them to uninstall the app on their personal phones. 

Nadeau-Vallée, known as “Doctor TikTok” to many, received an award last year for his efforts to debunk misinformation on the app at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Misinformation about vaccines was rampant on social networks, especially on TikTok — a platform that was all the more dangerous because of its powerful algorithm creating echo chambers,” he said in a statement to CBC Thursday. 

“So I decided to act as a counterbalance by providing content supported by scientific facts and responding to some viral videos containing misinformation. My ultimate goal was to enable people to make an informed decision about the vaccine, in a context where this decision could be vital.”

He said having scientists and doctors on TikTok is “essential.” 

A man wearing a mask speaks to the camera in a screengrab from TikTok.
Dr. Mathieu Nadeau-Vallée says scientists and doctors are essential users on TikTok to help stop the spread of misinformation. (wal_trudeau/TikTok)

“This is a public health issue,” he said. “The fight against misinformation is a primary objective identified by the [World Health Organization] and is increasingly referred to as ‘infodemic,'” he said. 

Both Dahine and Nadeau-Vallée said they will be keeping their accounts open so that users can still view and interact with 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, saying it raises privacy concerns due to the Chinese government having a stake in TikTok’s owner, ByteDance, and laws that allow the country to access user data.

However, both the federal and provincial governments said employees could continue to use the app on their personal devices. 

When reached for comment about its letter to its employees, the CISSS de Laval refused to answer why its TikTok ban applies to health-care staff’s personal phones and other questions concerning their personal use of the app. 

In a short statement, it said it’s respecting the Ministry of Health’s guidelines.

However, in a statement to CBC Thursday, the Ministry of Health said its TikTok ban applies to Quebec government mobile devices, “otherwise, the use of social media for personal use and on non-government devices remains a personal … choice that is permitted.” 

Dahine, for his part, says the rules under his local health board are too vague and don’t get to the root of the problem. 

“Right now, the ban just affects producing content, generating content for that one platform, so it’s not necessarily in coherence with the nature of the problem that we read about, which is the app itself collecting information that 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.”

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