Weekly Review: Communicating COVID-19 – November 16, 2020

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Weekly Review: Communicating COVID-19 – November 16, 2020

Weekly Review: Communicating COVID-19 – November 16, 2020

Overcoming Anti-Vaccine Rhetoric

With the recent announcement of an impending COVID-19 vaccine, former CDC director Tom Frieden commented on the effect of misinformation and vaccine hesitancy. He argues that critical components of effective public health risk messaging has been conspicuously lacking under the Trump administration. His advice for the CDC is that in these crisis situations, it is important to “be first, be right, and be credible,” which unfortunately has not occurred. It is important to be transparent in what you know, offer consistent messages, and provide concrete practical recommendations. WHO’s director of Health Emergencies Programme agrees and states that is important to counter dis- and mis-information effectively, and not be part of the problem by perpetuating it or by scolding or censoring to try to combat it. These suggestions are particularly important when trying to gain the trust of vaccine skeptics and anti-vaccine activists. Framing the message of vaccination as freedom of choice by telling people it is their choice to be vaccinated, instead of being forced, and persuading them about why it is a good choice to be vaccinated can be an effective approach.

Knowing that the rhetoric used by anti-vaccine enthusiasts is complex, this article articulates six themes used by the media to mislead viewers about COVID-19 in general, which are similar to the misinformation anti-vaccine activists use to mislead people. Raising awareness of these themes can help scientists and health communicators frame their rebuttals to lessen the likelihood that not only anti-vaccine individuals will believe the information but also that the general public seeking out information about COVID-19 will be influenced by the misinformation. Themes that must be addressed include:

  • “They” (e.g., government, “Big Pharma”) are lying to you
  • Civil liberties
  • Everyone is an expert
  • Science won’t save us (nature is better)
  • Skew the science
  • “They” are out to harm you

Online COVID-19 Information

The majority of people are accessing information about COVID-19 via online sources, whether that be traditional media sources online or social media. News media have a responsibility to report information in accurate and timely ways. In this study, researchers discovered the top themes of the three most widely circulated online newspapers in the United States (i.e., USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times) during the first three months of the pandemic. Multiple angles (e.g., financial impact, affected individuals, death rates, precaution recommendations, quarantine) and formats (e.g., photos, charts, first-person accounts, news analysis) were used to disseminate information that affected the public’s perceptions of severity and impact, and then ultimately behaviors. The authors stress the importance of presenting factual news because of this influence.

Even with online news sources, many people still get their information from social media sources. Studies this week focused on content accuracy and topics such as mask-wearing and quarantining from all over the world. For example, researchers in Poland found that most of the articles about COVID-19 prevention on Facebook were accurate, but inaccurate content was more likely to be shared by users than accurate information. A researcher in the United States analyzing the nature and types of information distributed on Twitter determined that Twitter is a prominent channel for the ongoing infodemic related to COVID-19. A different researcher from the United States analyzed tweets related to six COVID-19 misinformation topics and found that conservatives are more likely than liberals to believe and disseminate conspiracy theories, which can have dire consequences for public health. Another group of researchers from the United States investigating Twitter assessed public opinion of anti-quarantine efforts and identified 11 themes of anti-quarantine tweets. In a more positive study, European researchers determined that Twitter users form communities made up of a wide range of people (e.g., ordinary citizens, politicians, popular culture figures) to encourage the public to wear masks for reducing the spread of COVID-19. Finally, public health researchers in the United States provided the following recommended communication strategies for promoting sustainable preventive measures and curtailing widespread misinformation via social media:

  • Engage online influencers and amplify the voices of experts
  • Craft messages for lay audiences
  • Be honest about what is known and unknown
  • Encourage media and information literacy
  • Use recommended hashtags in posts
|2020-11-16T08:28:15-05:00November 16th, 2020|COVID-19 Literature|0 Comments

About the Author: Maria Brann

Maria Brann
Dr. Maria Brann, PhD, MPH, is a professor in the Department of Communication Studies in the School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI and affiliate faculty with the Injury Control Research Center at West Virginia University. She explores the integration of health, interpersonal, and gender communication. Her translational focus and mixed methods approach are woven throughout her health vulnerabilities research, which advocates for more effective communication to improve people’s health and safety. Her primary research interests focus on the study of women’s and ethical issues in health communication contexts and promotion of healthy lifestyle behaviors to improve personal and public health and safety. She researches communication at both the micro and macro levels and studies how communication influences relationships among individuals and with the social world.

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