This week’s articles explore different ways to interact with people about COVID-19 in productive ways.
Designing Effective Messages to Encourage COVID-19 Protective Behaviors
In this study of the psychological factors influencing people’s willingness to adopt protective behaviors to help control the pandemic, the researchers determined that trait reactance, COVID-19 conspiracy beliefs, and COVID-19 apocalypse beliefs affected COVID-19 knowledge and protective behaviors. The authors offer the following suggestions for health communication professionals:
- Messages designed for individuals prone to reactance should minimize controlling language and emphasize individual autonomy
- Messages designed for individuals who believe conspiracy theories should “roll with resistance” (a strategy common in motivational interviewing) instead of simply providing evidence contrary to their beliefs
- Messages designed for individuals who hold apocalyptic beliefs should include scripture that supports the adoption of COVID-19 protection and use religious leaders as message sources
Using Faith-Based Communities to Combat COVID-19
The suggestion to use religious leaders to communicate COVID-19 information is recognized by others as well. With the growing number of COVID-19 infections, public health leaders are looking for additional ways to provide accurate information to people to encourage them to engage in preventive behaviors. In this article, the authors argue that faith communities are well-positioned to communicate accurate information while disconfirming misinformation and that their work can effectively complement government public health approaches. They specifically suggest faith communities:
- develop internal policies and meeting guidelines in line with evidence-based recommendations and their own faith traditions,
- bolster religious school and daycare immunization policies, and
- partner with other faith-based organizations through financial support and volunteer hours.
These approaches are likely to encourage even more people to help in the fight against COVID-19.
Understanding Current Trends and Harnessing the Power of Social Media
More than half of the world’s population uses social media; therefore, this commentary posits that now is the time to rethink how we use these powerful platforms because they reflect and shape people’s behaviors. Social media has been shown to affect people’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors as they relate to COVID-19. Because information is changing quickly during the pandemic, the authors argue that users can actively engage with each other to increase social awareness.
The flow of misinformation often stems from social media. Although many platforms have sought to reduce the amount of misinformation circulating, it is still prevalent online. This study found that slightly more videos on TikTok discouraged rather than encouraged vaccination. The authors argue that the anti-vaccination messaging is likely undermining widespread vaccine uptake, particularly for younger people who are the largest proportion of users of the social media platform.
Another social media platform that is filled with misinformation is Facebook. This study explored the social media posts of prominent anti-vaccine groups and learned that these groups quickly organized their efforts and began spreading misinformation and conspiracy theory weeks before the United States launched is vaccine development program. These anti-vaccine messages quickly outpaced public health messages and has negatively affected vaccine uptake. It is vital for public health organizations like the CDC to use Facebook to disseminate accurate information to help facilitate vaccination efforts.
Finally, this commentary argues that health care providers must communicate with patients about COVID-19 vaccination to persuade them to be vaccinated, and they argue the best way to do so is through social media. Because so many people who oppose immunizations are active on social media, it is important for trusted medical professionals to speak directly to people who oppose vaccination and to answer questions raised from vaccine-hesitant individuals. To fulfill their obligation to provide the public with accurate health information and to advocate for public health policies, the authors encourage health care providers to engage in online public health education.