Many Canadians have personally experienced how quickly disagreements on public health measures can become during a pandemic. However, outspoken medical professionals (especially people of color) receive a large number of hate attacks every day, and these attacks often cross the boundaries of outrageous personal attacks, racism, and even threats of violence.
With the relaxation of restrictions across the country and the decline in active COVID-19 cases, Canadian doctors who shared advice and corrected misinformation through social media during the crisis said that the hatred they faced online will not disappear.
If anything, it is stronger than ever.
“I think the situation in March 2020 was terrible, and it has actually gotten worse now,” said Victorian palliative care and family doctor Dr. Amy Tan.
Last year, with the arrival of COVID-19 in North America, anti-Asian hatred was on the rise. Tan said she was inspired to use social media as a platform to appeal for racism.
She posted a series of topics on Twitter, Shared her own experience in racism, advocated the use of masks, discussed vaccines and commented on social justice issues.
Her presence on social media means that she often receives misogyny and racist recipients of trolls who send her direct messages, emails, and sometimes physical emails.
“I have actually asked my assistant to be careful and wear gloves when opening emails that look a little suspicious, because I have received physical hate emails,” Tan said.
She said that one of the most hurtful comments came after she completed a live TV interview on Canada Day last year.
“I received an email from my work mailbox, and it said, I am an ugly gk, my eyes are too small, I need to open my eyes,” she said.
“[My husband] I am worried about my own personal safety, but I am also worried about the loss it will cause me. Our 12-year-old son is receiving a considerable master class in dealing with racism. “
It’s not just racialized doctors who are under fire. Outspoken health advocates across Canada were attacked, and their accounts were hacked and threatened.
Most recently, the Chief Public Health Officer of Manitoba Dr. Brent Roussin told reporters Suspicious activity has occurred around his home, and the severity of online threats against him has increased.
“My family and I must have received multiple threats. I have been in contact with the security department and the police and have been followed up,” he said on Monday.
‘Like the wild, wild west’
Dr. Naheed Dosani, a palliative care physician and lecturer at the University of Toronto, admitted that during the pandemic, most health professionals dealt with considerable hatred.
Dossani said: “Health workers from all walks of life have become targets, but I think health workers of color-overtly racialized health workers-have become targets in particular in annoying ways. “
Before the pandemic began, Dossani was active on social media. He used twitter, Instagram and TikTok comment on social issues, such as setting better healthcare standards for the homeless.
When the crisis hit Canada, he continued to advocate for racism and injustice, while also working to raise awareness about keeping physical distance and wearing masks.
He said he had tried to report racist comments to the social media platforms he used, but there were too many to keep up. “Sometimes it feels like the Wild West.”
In a screenshot he shared with CBC News, an Instagram user privately messaged him, calling him an “inhuman brownie” and shared a video of a man spitting.
Dossani said these comments are usually about his skin color, his appearance or the fact that he has a Muslim name.
Another private message sent to his Facebook account read: “If you don’t like this place, why not go back to the bad place where you are and see how far you can go? Before that, shut up fk!”
Dossani said that hatred can be very real and harmful. Some information scares him, some makes him angry.
“Some days I think, why should I do this? Because this is just a big personal loss.”
Hey indoor barbecue activist,
You are not oppressed. Inconvenience to you.
Understand the difference.
Your threats will not stop me.
As the pandemic progressed, the topic shifted from blockades to masks to vaccines. Dossani said that the haters have not eased: they have just changed the focus of anger.
“In many ways, trolling continues, and in some cases has increased,” he said.
So far, he has endured trolls because he believes that doctors have a “moral obligation to provide information based on science and evidence”, especially when misinformation is rampant on the Internet.
Unless these comments are sufficient to justify the criminal investigation, Canadian doctors who are outspoken on social media say that they mainly rely on themselves when dealing with troll problems.
There is nothing they can do except report and flag racist comments to social media platforms.
Dossani said: “If I work in a medical institution, and someone comes in to verbally attack me and racially discriminate me, it usually has an impact.” “When you are online, these protective measures don’t exist.”
Does hatred make people feel depressed?
Dr. Ann Collins, president of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), said she has seen how bad the trolls on social media are-she is worried about the loss of doctors.
CMA advocates the interests of Canadian doctors and issues in the field of healthcare. Even before the pandemic, Collins said they were worried about doctor burnout.
She said: “The potential disadvantage is that some people who are good at advocating, telling the truth, and have sufficient evidence… In some cases, they will feel that they are blinded by such harsh remarks.”
‘I tried to avoid discussing it’
Dr. Jennifer Kwan, a family doctor in Burlington, Ontario, has no plan to silence the troll.
When the epidemic hit last year, Kwan co-founded the Masks4Canada group to advocate the use of masks, and Start using Twitter to share COVID-19 data In Ontario. She spends at least one hour a day compiling the data and constructing the graphs she posted on Twitter to help people understand how COVID-19 affects the province.
“I know it helps a lot of people,” she said. “In every aspect of life, you will never get 100% positive feedback.”
When she started, she didn’t expect such a negative backlash.
“I try to avoid discussing it because I don’t want to provide a platform for this abominable behavior.”
But when asked about this, Guan admitted that she had dealt with racist and sexist comments, emails and phone calls.
“Sometimes it does feel like we are on our own, because unless there is a physical threat, we cannot report to law enforcement or any authority,” Guan said.
Nevertheless, she tried her best to ignore the haters.
“A lot of these hateful comments come from anonymous people,” Guan said. “If they can’t even put their names and faces on social media, why should we care about their comments when we put ourselves there?”
Is it worth it?
For Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist at the University of Ottawa, the troll is bad enough that he has to close his personal Twitter account; only people he approves can see his tweets.
Deonandan has a baby son, and he said he realizes that he needs to consider the potential loss to his family.
It’s not that constant comments like “You should go back to where you came from” are particularly harmful to Denandan; growing up in Toronto in the 1970s, being a non-white person helped him grow thick skin.
“Some harsh words won’t hurt me,” he said. “It makes me sad. It makes me feel sorry for my son’s future.”
He said that when he realized that it was no longer worth it, he was forced to lock his account. The last straw was a few months ago, when someone tried to invade his Twitter.
“Now I don’t know if what I did is useful. And it’s very unpleasant.”
Deonandan has been active online for many years, through social media and his personal blog. He said that he had always been willing to deal with haters and tried to create a thoughtful back and forth, but during the pandemic, things changed.
“I found that many people are not looking for dialogue. They just want to hurt you.”
People made indirect threats of violence to Deonandan, such as “Someone should beat you.” Some people actually contacted his university dean and tried to get him fired.
“It makes my spouse unhappy. It makes me unhappy. My employer is also a little worried about my abuse,” he said.
But he didn’t want to blurt out “Woe to me”.
“For every terrible message I receive, I receive 50 very supportive messages.”
On the other hand, Tan said, the troll just reminded her how important it is to keep talking. She said: “If anything, my belief in fighting for all the inequalities revealed by the COVID is boosted.”
Dossani agreed. Although his social media propaganda caused an emotional loss, he said he did not back down.
“I’m just getting started. Hatred and bitterness won’t stop me.”