WASHINGTON — Canadians consider the online disinformation epidemic and climate change as the most serious threats of the modern age, edging out pandemic-era concerns about the global economy and infectious disease, a new survey suggests.
Research released Wednesday by the D.C.-based Pew Research Center found 68 per cent of respondents in Canada classified bogus online information as a major threat, followed by climate change at 65 per cent.
On a worldwide scale, however, it was climate change that emerged as the leading international concern, ranking as a major threat among 75 per cent of respondents in 19 advanced economies across North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
"With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, a hot war between Russia and Ukraine ongoing, inflation rates rising globally and heat records being smashed across parts of the world, countries are facing a wide variety of challenges in 2022," Pew said in a release.
"Among the many threats facing the globe, climate change stands out as an especially strong concern among citizens in advanced economies."
Despite the ongoing pandemic and the lingering economic, supply-chain and inflationary fallout that has ensued, the world economy and the spread of infectious disease were cited by just 58 and 57 per cent of Canadian participants, respectively.
Concern about climate change — dominant in Europe, with scores as high as 82 per cent — was offset by the western world, where political affiliations tend to determine the extent of concern expressed about environmental issues.
Of the 3,581 American respondents surveyed online, 54 per cent described climate change as a major threat, including just 22 per cent of those on the political right, compared with 85 per cent of those on the left — a spread of 63 percentage points.
In Canada, 46 per cent of those on the political right called climate change a major threat, compared with 80 per cent on the left and 71 per cent who identified themselves as belonging to the political centre.
"Despite these political divisions, concerns about climate change have been rising in recent years, as people react to the climate extremes plaguing their countries," the survey said.
"Concerns about climate change are at all-time highs in 10 countries," including the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and Japan. In Canada, the all-time high of 67 per cent came in the 2020 edition of the survey.
The Canadian portion of the survey was conducted by telephone between Feb. 14 and April 24 and carries a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.
Canada was an outlier when it came to the level of concern about false information online. While a majority of respondents in all 19 countries called it a major threat, only in two other countries — Germany and Malaysia — did those surveyed also make it their top choice.
In Canada, it may be because of the timing of the survey, which began as Ottawa was being roiled by the so-called "Freedom Convoy," a motley occupation and blockade of the parliamentary precinct, ostensibly to protest COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates, that some experts believe was fuelled in part by foreign disinformation.
Foreign cyberattacks, which registered as the top concern in the United States at 71 per cent, also ranked high north of the border, earning major-threat status from 63 per cent of the 1,324 Canadians surveyed.
Indeed, that's the highest level of concern expressed among Canadian respondents since Pew began asking the question in 2016 — a likely consequence of this year's show of force by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"Concerns about cyberattacks, possibly heightened by the tensions between Russia and Ukraine and prominent instances of hacking across the world, are at all-time highs in many of the countries surveyed," the survey said.
"In the last five years, there has been a remarkable increase in the share saying cyberattacks from other countries are a major threat to their country."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2022.
James McCarten, The Canadian Press