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Weak Digital Communication Causing Covid-19 to Stay

Nearly 80 million people in the United States and six million in the United Kingdom are eligible for the Covid-19 vaccination but have yet to receive it. As the Delta strain spreads, governments around the world have increased their efforts to persuade this group to get inoculated. These emails have taken on a somewhat caustic tone for many. Communications experts, on the other hand, have misgivings about how effective this powerful messaging is in practice.

President Joe Biden directly addressed the vaccine hesitant, saying, “We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us.” Meanwhile, England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty echoed a similar attitude, adding that many people who oppose Covid-19 immunization “know they’re spreading lies, yet they still do it,” and that they “should be ashamed.”

Shyam Sundar, a media effects professor at Penn State University, says this tone appears to be offending a large number of people who refuse to get vaccinated. Directive messages, such as the UK government’s widely panned “Might you look them in the eyes?” campaign, which aired across digital and traditional media, can elicit negative reactions in some people.

The messages are regarded as threatening the viewer’s free will by defining what they are and aren’t allowed to do, which is interpreted as a threat. When these people believe that their independence is being threatened, they become motivated to reclaim it by attempting to do what is forbidden or refusing to engage in recommended behaviors. This means that if messages about the Covid-19 epidemic are overly harsh or scolding, people may reject vaccination or public health advice unwittingly.

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