Understandably, being media literate is important. By now, most understand that the news we watch, the blogs we read, and even the personal social networks that we interact with all come from sources that have their own intentions and agendas.
However, what I don’t think we as a people can either expect or accept is that officials from our health departments run disinformation campaigns. Health communication is not political, it is not biased, and its only intent or agenda should be to do the least damage to the greatest amount of people. Frankly, any failure to tell nothing but the 100% truth about health-related matters to the entirety of the American people should be punishable. Yet as of now, the best we have is here, where Twitter is being praised for having removed a tweet containing a completely false statement from the coronavirus task force advisor to the president, Scott Atlas. Are twitter guidelines our new checks and balances?
The first issue here is that factually, the tweet was incorrect.
Unfortunately, a careless tweet like this doesn’t need to be proven correct before it gets sent out for the whole world to read. These false claims not only get likes and retweets, but they spread into many smaller communities that push the same message to their members. The original tweet will go on to have snowball affects that we won’t even know the dangers of yet. Confirmation bias will cause the people of this country to go on continuing to believe false information everywhere they look.
Secondly, the gaslighting is real. It’s one danger to tweet a lie regarding American’s health, but it’s ludicrous to lie to the American people that steps are being taken while simultaneously denouncing them.
In addition to the removed tweet, many others from Atlas contradicted themselves as well as overall messages from health experts. First, towards the end of March, he put out a tweet comparing the US’s yearly deaths of the flu (roughly 40,000) to the current COVID-19 deaths (201) in a way to “prove” its lack of severity. Over here in reality, where we don’t claim omnipotent knowledge of diseases we personally haven’t studied, just over half a year has gone by and the death toll has surpassed 1 million worldwide. As of today, the tune has obviously changed – significantly, but not in any way that can admit fault. Today Atlas wrote “POTUS and I have always stressed all appropriate mitigation measures to save lives—incl social distancing, extra hygiene, and mask wearing when one cannot social distance.” This comes just days after saying masks do not work.
Words cannot express how weird it feels to be told appropriate measures have been taken just 2 days after tweeting “Masks work? NO,” to his over 60,000 followers.
Lastly, a health communication expert would never imply partial solutions without examining consequence. In a tweet today, Atlas pushed the administration’s “strategy” of protecting seniors and opening all school and work. Saying you’ll protect seniors (how noble), regardless of how aggressively you aim to do so is an empty promise considering there are 1) many other populations whom are seriously vulnerable, 2) the elderly and other vulnerable populations often live with others that would then be going out to work and school and unable to avoid bringing the virus home, and 3) these populations need money to survive. Are we paying them to stay home? If not, your promises are as baseless as having a job consulting on a global pandemic when you’re a neuroradiologist.