COVID and the criticality of informed trusted communication.

by Philip Ingram MBE

One thing is becoming apparent, the last true global crisis on the scale of the developing COVID-19 pandemic, was the Second World War.  In any crisis it is only natural that people hunt for as much information as they can get to try and get a sense of security for themselves, their loved ones and if appropriate their businesses.

Information itself is of little help unless it can be used to accurately ‘paint’ a realistic picture of what is going on and the implications of various decisions.  During the Second World War people got their information from 4 sources, the newspapers, the radio, newsreels in the cinemas and local gossip.  For three of those sources the accuracy of the information could be at the very least influenced by the government for the common good.

The local gossip networks were also influenced heavily through campaigns around careless talk with posters like “Are you a Megaphone Mouth? Don’t Spread Rumours,” making talking out of turn socially unacceptable, as this was also linked to wider consequences for security with posters such as “Lose lips sink ships.”

Those providing the news, whether journalist for print or, as there was only one source of Radio, the BBC, and news reels from Pathé News, trusted commentators were recognised, and this brought with it a degree of confidence for those who consumed the information. The potential for misinformation or disinformation that was not formally planned, was low.  The limited information was pushed to the population, was easy to absorb and on the whole accepted by the general public.

However, today this type of control and social conditioning is impossible outside dictatorial regimes. With social media enabling anyone to publish an opinion or comment about anything and possibly reach a huge audience for very little effort, the potential for misinformation and disinformation is extremely high.  The volume of information that exists means individuals need to pull what they believe is relevant form a variety of sources.

That wouldn’t be an issue if there remained trusted sources of information that operated outwit the sensationalist click bait approaches shown not only by some celebrities, but also by politicians who seek opportunities for political point scoring on every issue. For example, Piers Morgan at the weekend said, “The government seems to be avoiding draconian ‘shutdown’ action now because we will all get too bored with it,” accurate? Helpful? Or flippant clickbait?

Individuals tend to pull information from sources they like and too often it is from known celebrities or from politicians of their own political persuasion. The number of sources ‘trusted’ by individuals is massive, that doesn’t mean that their information should be ‘trusted.’ That trust is not necessarily based on the accuracy of the information, it is too often based on the popularity or agenda of the individual.

The ability of those individuals to unduly influence rather than inform needs to be recognised by those who listen to them and the motivation behind what is being said must be questioned alongside the accuracy of what they are saying. The point is rapidly approaching if it hasn’t been reached already, where unreliable sources of information or individuals who are sensationalising for their own position, must be called out.

We are facing a threat at the level that is almost stimulating the need for a total war footing, we are seeing industry being asked to switch manufacturing from their normal goods to essential medical products and capabilities. We are seeing government initiating daily ministerial and expert briefings, we are seeing controls being imposed across the globe that six months ago would have been described as impossible. We need common sense to start to prevail in the information and communication sphere.

For those who fall into the category where they could say, “Could be. I’m a pretty dangerous dude when I’m cornered.” (Not a Nigel Farage quote)

Remember the next line was,

“Yeah,” said the voice from under the table, “you go to pieces so fast people get hit by the shrapnel.” ― Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Don’t let the Nigel Farage’s, or Piers Morgan’s who stir up clickbait type comments kill you with their shrapnel as their opinions go to pieces. For once, it is probably time to trust government sources once again. To trust press outlets like the BBC or Sky or ITN and remember in ratio terms 2 ears and one mouth means that listening should be done more than speaking. By all means question what is being said but learn to accept informed assessment from proper sources you can trust.