PRESS THIS: Here’s how to win the life and death struggle with lies and antivaxxers

In March, we clapped the carers who were on the frontline of the pandemic.

Now in December, the frontline has moved overnight to our friends, family and neighbours.

How?

Because now the battle to create a vaccine has been won the battle is to win public opinion to accept the approved vaccinations as safe.

I’ve long said that all this will be won or lost on Facebook and I’ve never been more certain.

Where the public are

Accordng to the Ofcom coronavirus media opinions tracker, a third of people last month came across information they thought was misleading or false.

Only 53 per cent three months ago said they would be happy to be immunised while there was a need for at least 70 per cent of the population to have the jab. In a more recent poll a third were hesitant or unhappy to received the jab.

Just 11 per cent were sharing COVID-19 messaging, the Ofcom study shows, less than half the number from week one.

So where does that leave us?

Not to put too fine a point on it, immunisation is the route out of this and it’s hanging in the balance.

The debate that needs to be won

It leaves us with a debate to be won.

Some of those hesitant have reasonable questions. A caller to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, for example, asked if a long COVID sufferer would be at risk of having the jab? Answer: on balance, no.

Such questions are quite reasonable and the assurances that the UK drug watchdogs the MRHA are that they have thoroughly tested the drug.

But then there are the others, a rag tag army of conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers. I blogged last week in praise of Glasgow City Council who took the view that they would be banning people who posted false information from their social media pages. Bravo them. But that doesn’t solve the whole problem.

Public sector pages are a fraction of the problem

Spending time online for research leads me to spend several hours on Facebook a day. It also leads me to read a lot of misinformation. There are two places where this crap really builds up. Number one, Newspaper Facebook pages in the comments section and number two, Facebook group comments. There, the information is often wall-to-wall.

A quick trip to Birmingham Live my local Reach publication on Facebook leads me to:

“We know this is part of a bigger plan to force everyone to get it.”

“The flu’s been around forever there’s a vaccine and still kills thousands each year yet we just get on with it.”

“We’re being lied to.”

If you’ve spent anytime online you’ll have seen this.

I worry that many of those making decisions haven’t.

So, what’s to be done?

Newspaper editors need to take responsibility for the misinformation that their Facebook pages and comments sections are filled with. It is killing people.

Facebook group admins also need to take responsibility for their share too. It is also killing people.

It’s tempting to throw your hands into the air and say this thing is bigger than all of us but there’s one group of people who can help with this fight that we’ve forgotten all about. In the first weeks of lockdown, a million people came forward to volunteer their services. They are perfectly placed to act.

If only two in 10 came forward to help spread the public health messages about the vaccine that’s 100,000 people. Around 69 per cent of the population use Facebook. If 69 per cent of this number shared information to the 200 friends in their feed that’s upwards of 26 million people reached.

Of course, these are hypothetical numbers and the eventual reach could be more or less that that. But the concept makes sense because.

How about a full on rebuttal?

The traditional way to challenge an inaccurate story is to write a follow-up. So, X hits back at claims that Y is the next book in this series.

However, good evidence exists that if you do that you just reinforce the original misinformation which is pointless.

As my Uncle Keith once told me: ‘Never argue with an idiot. To a passer-by it’s just two idiots arguing.’

But comms people are tired

Worn down by long hours and stress we’ve entered the arena of burn-out and more severe mental health problems.

If the Manchester Arena bombing caused problems with 22 deaths what does 50,000 dead cause?

Public sector comms people can’t do all the communicating on their own.

They needn’t.

How to reach them and with what?

How about UK Government and national NHS content?

Hmmm. But fewer people have been sharing national messages that bring with them unhelpful baggage.

But how about the local council and NHS corporate Facebook, Twitter, email or Instagram page? Isn’t that the answer?

My answer to that is that clearly on its own, it isn’t.

While some good locally-made content with a local voice is being made the public sector page on its own attracts a minority audience.

For me, the answer is to create highly sharable local content that helps make the point that the vaccines have been tested and cleared by the country’s finest scientific brains.

But it needs to be local content that repeats the central message.

So, create it locally on Facebook but drive your band of NHS volunteers to it through dedicated email lists or new WhatsApp for Business broadcasts.

So the request…

Hello volunteer,

Can you share this <INSERT LINK> weith your friends and family?

By sharing this you will help save lives.

Thanks!

There is time to get this going but precious little of it.

The clock is ticking.

So, what are you going to do?

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