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New Westminster school board makes preemptive strike against COVID-19 disinformation

Trustees vote to add a disclaimer to board meeting videos on YouTube after hearing COVID "misinformation" during public comment period
COVID misinformation
New Westminster school trustees are taking a preemptive strike against COVID-19 disinformation by adding a disclaimer to the YouTube channel where board meetings are posted.

Not all views expressed at New Westminster school board meetings reflect the opinions of the board – nor, for that matter, are they all grounded in science.

Trustees voted Oct. 26 in favour of posting a disclaimer to that effect on the school district’s YouTube channel, where videos of all open board and committee meetings are posted for public access. The board is currently holding all its meetings virtually, via Webex.

The issue arose at the Oct. 14 operations committee meeting, after trustees expressed concern about “misinformation” shared by one speaker, during the public comment and question period, around the issue of COVID-19 vaccines.

Trustee Anita Ansari urged the board to make it clear that the comments were made by a member of the public and did not reflect the views of the school district or of an expert in the subject.

“I don’t want to censor our community; however, I also don’t want people to think that we have experts speaking when we don’t,” she said.

Board members referenced a situation that had arisen in Dawson Creek, where a portion of a city council video went viral on social media, including Twitter, TikTok and Facebook, and got global circulation in COVID-19 disinformation groups. Among the speakers at that Sept. 2 meeting was a woman who identified as a “molecular biologist” (although CBC News reported following the meeting that small business listings identified her as the owner of a business dedicated to “energy healing” and “tarot readings”).

The video of that city council meeting was later cut to remove anti-vaccination presentations, as the Dawson Creek Mirror reported.

Ansari said the board wouldn’t want to see something similar happen if clips from New West’s meetings – particularly the public comment periods – were taken out of context.

“In this day and age, it’s important to frame that our meetings are open to anybody who comes to speak. People can be self-identified experts, but that does not mean that you have your medical degree or your epidemiology PhD,” she said.

Trustee Mark Gifford said it would be “difficult and problematic” to try to put a targeted disclaimer on comments made by specific individuals, but he supported the idea of having a general disclaimer on the district’s YouTube channel.

School board members officially voted in favour of the new disclaimer at their Oct. 26 meeting.

A disclaimer on the board’s YouTube channel now reads: “Portions of this meeting are open to the public to provide opportunity to add comment or ask questions. Opinions, views and information shared by people participating in those sections of the meetings may or may not be reflective of either the Board of Education or of New Westminster Schools.”

Follow Julie MacLellan on Twitter @juliemaclellan.
Email Julie, jmaclellan@newwestrecord.ca.