One of the many consequences of COVID-19 has been the chance it offers us to rethink, recalibrate and reframe our lives. It’s a chance for a divided world to come together, a chance for kindness and compassion to triumph over hate, a chance to reaffirm our faith in science over partisan rhetoric that rings false even to those of us without PhDs.
I’ve been considering ways brand managers can combat the age of rage for a few years now—offering what counsel I can on how to ward off the verbal blows of the trolls, the shouters and haters. And—especially important in my line of work—how to counter the spread of mistruths and fake “facts.”
As if this pandemic weren’t enough for us to deal with, this virus has also unleashed an unhealthy miasma of disinformation. I was troubled to receive an email from Yonder a few days ago, saying that 5% of all online posts on COVID-19 are politically motivated. Worse still, these posts are responsible for driving 16% of online engagement about the virus.
Intentionally inaccurate information is damaging at any time. We know full well that it can interfere with elections, sow discord, and influence decision-makers in worrisome ways. During a pandemic, it poses an even more immediate threat.
Unfortunately, misinformation about COVID-19 abounds, from quack cures and vaccines not yet in existence to the claim by the president of former Soviet republic Belarus that drinking vodka and taking a sauna keeps the virus at bay. Believe me, I’m not much of a drinker, but I’d be sipping a Bloody Mary right now if that were the case.
The question facing governments during this pandemic is the same one we in comms have faced increasingly often in recent years: How do you correct a false narrative—especially when that narrative aligns with many people’s political leanings and prejudices?
It can be tempting for people to give up. To simply ignore the lies and ugliness of social media and hope that the truth will eventually win out. (Spoiler alert: It typically doesn’t.) That head-in-the-sand approach isn’t feasible for brand communicators. We have no choice but to be out there creating and defending our brands. Problem is, doing so makes us lightning rods to anyone with a grievance, legitimate or not.
As readers of my blog know, I’m no stranger to being caught in the crosshairs. It can be personal and unpleasant. But at least I can share what I’ve learned.
All these lessons start and end with a conversation—preferably, a civil one. Your job—our job—is to persistently counter mistruths with facts. In the context of this pandemic, it’s to fight for the supremacy of science over scaremongering and willful ignorance.
If we are relentless about adhering to the truth, reason—rather than rhetoric and rumors—will prevail.