Here's how we can help counter COVID mistruths
Dr. Donald Redelmeier says everyone has a role to play.
The Ontario Medical Association recently released startling findings about online COVID hoax theorists, revealing that the vast majority of myth superspreaders are among those most in need of the vaccine: men and women between the ages of 55 and 64.
Myth spreaders of any age are dangerous, particularly now as variants of concern have taken Ontario into its most deadly pandemic phase yet. Facts are not enough to stop myths; it takes influence and accountability for the safety of others.
Let's look at four particularly harmful COVID myths circulating today.
Myth 1: I am young and will not die.
Fact: Many patients do not survive intact, so mortality figures underestimate the full extent of suffering.
Myth 2: I got my shot, so I can go back to usual. Fact: Even with a single shot, masks, handwashing and physical distancing are necessary because of the high number of infections circulating.
Myth 3: An N-95 mask is the best protection. Fact: Only if you are a plastic statue that never fidgets. The way to prevent airborne transmission is to use a combination of interventions, such as physical distancing, handwashing, the vaccine — not just a mask.
Myth 4: Everything will be fine when the pandemic ends.
Fact: There is a backlog of millions of patients who need surgery or other medical procedures. This summer is not the time to have a traffic accident, for example.
Presenting those facts alone won't change people's minds; the research shows that people hate to be wrong. Some among the coalition of the misinformed are victims of deception who are now invested in the untruth. This investment is what makes stamping down misinformation an endless struggle, and why there are still those who believe the moon landings were faked.
We live in an age of information overload where we all can fall victim to toxic propaganda. But five techniques can help to influence what people believe and set the record straight.
1. Appeal to local norms. People trust those they know. What's going on in one region, or in my neighbourhood, isn't necessarily the same as what's going on in yours.
2. Choose relatable influencers and remember we all trust different people. Justin Trudeau may resonate with you. For someone else, Justin Bieber may be more compelling.
3. Use smart analogies to make your point. If someone is worried about getting the COVID-19 vaccine, ask them if they'd be OK getting vaccinated if they were bitten by a rabid raccoon.
4. Make adopting good behaviour as easy as possible. Vaccine hesitancy may, in some cases, be more about procrastination or inconvenience.
5. Use testimonials from converts to persuade people. A single person can win over even a mass of people. Elvis had to roll up his sleeve to persuade teenagers the polio vaccine was safe.
It's more important than ever in the fight against COVID to take time to bust the myths.
Almost six per cent of Ontarians online are engaging in misinformation about the pandemic, according to the research conducted by Advanced Symbolics Ltd. on behalf of the OMA. They are not trying to counter it, but talking about and sharing misinformation in a way that indicates they are believers of those myths.
We are all accountable for ensuring our family, friends and neighbours are making decisions based on the facts. Do what you can to bring the myth spreaders around. Your efforts can help save lives.