Mask up against misinformation

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Covid 19, Crisis communication, Society

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Be careful out there – there’s a smog of misinformation that’s fuelling some ghastly symptoms. China is caught up in an outbreak of a new virus and the symptoms being displayed elsewhere in the world are abhorrent. There’s a rise in racist attacks, social media is alight with spurious claim and counter claim and ‘official channels’ are leaving an information vacuum that shortens the incubation period for conspiracy theorists and online trolls.

The main source of information should be the World Health Organisation but their briefings fluctuate from suggesting the situation is dire to suggesting all is contained. Their video on the virus wasn’t terribly helpful and, to be fair, I found it to be a poor explanation of the situation that raised more questions than answers – plus it was a very patronising use of a very un-diverse Doodly-esq type video platform. Given the resources available at WHO, I really think they could have done better and should do better.

A global pandemic has been in the top five risks on the Global Risk Index for a number of years now and we’ve seen SARS, MERS and Ebola outbreaks since 2000 – so why has the communication around this viral outbreak stalled in such an amateurish way? Leaving questions unanswered creates worry and fear – emotions that are happily pounced on by those who want to further their own xenophobic agenda. WHO states this is a ‘novel coronavirus’, so it is new, it is relatively early days in the cycle – although the toll for Chinese people has been both considerable and deadly – and they are still piecing together information.

All understandable challenges but in communicating the situation, tone should have been addressed as well as content. Tone that demonstrates some compassion for those suffering from the virus. Tone that allays the fears of those who think they might contract the virus and tone that affords some authority to those speaking about the virus. During our risk and reputation training sessions this month we’ve tracked the ‘spread of information’ connected to Novel Coronavirus 2019 and one thing all the workshop participants agreed on was the need to urgently look at their own crisis and risk communication plans.

The other active discussions concerned the societal responsibility of all communicators to allay fears and minimise the chance (risk) of racist attacks. Staying informed, keeping up-to-date with the changing situation so we can advise and communicate risks and issues – all absolutely part of our jobs which, if the last month is anything to go by, are going to get more challenging than ever.​And if you need some help with your risk, reputation and issues management – contact us today and be prepared.