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Stop the spread – of misinformation

by | Apr 17, 2020 | Behaviour, Communications, Content, Crisis management, Language, Perception, Social media, Twitter | 0 comments

I know I bang on about plain English, direct communications and making things simple but this situation we are in now – a global public health pandemic – reinforces this five hundredfold.

The situation is a conspiracy theorists wet dream. I’d like to think I have a pretty good filter and can skim read bullshit stuff and gloss over a headline that’s sending readers down a rabbit hole of utter nonsense. However, if you want to look for this stuff it’s so easy to find, and spread. We need people to stop putting misinformation out there and the fanning of the flames.

Not of huge importance in the grand scheme of things but the ‘one hour of exercise’ rule is a case in point. Nowhere is it written down that the acceptable out of home exercise should be only one hour. And yet, I have seen it repeated so many time like it is actual law. It’s not. Where did this one hour thing come from and why has it stuck as truth? According to this BBC piece on coronavirus myths “Even the simple repetition of a statement – whether the same text, or over multiple messages – can increase the “truthiness” by increasing feelings of familiarity, which we mistake for factual accuracy. So, the more often we see something in our news feed, the more likely we are to think that it’s true – even if we were originally sceptical.” So, the more you see it the more you believe it. That doesn’t make it true, even if Eamon Holmes and Amanda Holden say it’s so. A friend of mine works in telecoms supporting the construction of masts for 5g and they’ve had advisory emails on how to deal with the public if approached when working about the non-existent link between the virus and 5g. I haven’t seen the content of these emails but I want to, just to see if they say ‘go away you crank’.

Far worse, in my opinion, are the communications telling people what they can and can’t do according to the emergency powers (The Coronavirus Bill). We’ve been in this for three plus weeks now and we still haven’t got a handle on it. There were some really heavy-handed police interventions in the early days. Police drones filming dog walkers in empty parks. Tweets about cops monitoring shopping trollies and supermarket aisles for ‘non-essential’ items, including Easter eggs. These are down to an interpretation of the rules. If something is ambiguous, intentionally, or not, it’s open to interpretation which leads to the widely varying application of said rules.

I was pleased to read the guidance to police forces from The National Police Chiefs’ Council about the application of the rules in England. There has to be consistency of messaging, updated where applicable, on this guidance. I’m all for devolved comms and social media accounts for local police forces adding personality and hyperlocal elements but it has been harmful during this pandemic, and lockdown in particular. I say harmful, because communities are turning inwards and on each other reporting neighbours for ‘against the rules’ behaviour. I’m including local council and community groups and Facebook pages in those that need to update and amend their guidance too because I’ve seen some shockingly wrong interpretations, which are, I said, harmful to communities. Yes, there is a ton of good stuff happening in neighbourhoods with covaid communities etc but we can’t ignore the bad stuff. Anything that gives out false information fuels the community covigilante behaviour. Clarity and consistency and comms based on fact are what’s needed.

My final point is about the now weekly clap for carers. It raised my hackles when I first saw it being talked about. I looked at the initial messaging around it and nowhere did it say ‘clap for carers if it’s safe to do so’ or ‘clap for the NHS, whilst maintaining social distancing’. I immediately thought there will be people who put themselves at others in danger doing this. Cue today and a video circulating widely of people standing way too close to each other on a London bridge, police included, clapping and whoop whooping for carers. I’m no medical expert but I’m going to take a punt that clapping at 8pm on a Thursday does not give you immunity from coronavirus. The same rules apply re social distancing. (some) People need to be told this explicitly. Also, fireworks for carers? With no accompanying messages about firework safety when all the emergency services are stretched? I’m not being the fun police. I’m questioning why people might be potentially causing more work for the people they are clapping for. We can’t rely on common sense (clearly), we need clear comms.

I tell you what’s clear, and the best bit of advice I’ve seen around this pandemic, a woman from Italy writing ‘don’t underestimate how much chocolate you will need to get through this’. Amen sister.

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