Many of us know the devastating effect Covid-19 has had on families and friends firsthand – but at the same time, the pandemic has been accompanied by a flurry of misinformation and a sharp rise in QAnon conspiracy theories.
Some think a second wave is nonsense, others believe “positive” test results are false, and people claim Covid is a hoax. You’ve probably been there – having to explain to your high-risk grandad why wearing a mask won’t trample anyone’s freedom, or reminding pals on WhatsApp it’s not “over” and we’re still in the midst of a pandemic.
Dr. Kit Yates, senior lecturer in mathematical biology at the University of Bath and author of The Maths of Life and Death, has noticed a rise in the number of people using a range of arguments to downplay the seriousness of the second wave of Covid-19. Some “Covid-denier favourites”, he says, include: the rise in cases is due to a rise in testing; lockdowns “don’t work”; people aren’t dying, it’s only cases going up; and it’s “just a bad flu”.
So how can you have a conversation with a Covid-denier, and reason with them?
Stay cool and don’t force your views.
If people in your life believe in complex conspiracies or downplay the seriousness of Covid-19, it can lead to difficult arguments. But forcing your views down their throats won’t do any good.
“Firstly, take a step back and remove the label of ‘denier’ – by making it into a collective noun, you’re saying that’s all they are to a person,” counselling directory member and psychotherapist, Katerina Georgiou, tells HuffPost UK.
“If you do that, it makes it a whole lot easier to deal with. Just because they’re a ‘denier’, it doesn’t mean they’re a terrible person, it means they have a view you don’t agree with. Try to take emotions out of it. The second you’re trying to win, you’re already losing.”
Stay cool and battle through the generalised feeling of unease in these conversations. Try to engage to the best of your abilities through careful questioning, share any experiences, and discuss yours fears.
Remember: they may be in denial through their own fears. “Not being able to accept the reality is a very natural way of dealing with anxiety and panic,” says counselling directory member and psychotherapist, Antony Constantinou. “A lot of what we’re told is coming from all over the place: the media, politicians, the government, scientists. Because everything is intertwined with so much data, opinions and perspectives it makes things very, very difficult.”
Arm yourself with data and facts.
Leave the myths and folklore to the storybooks. If in heated debate, try to reason with statistics, sources, and logic.
“It’s hard to stay unemotional in the face of distortions of the facts,” Dr Yates explains, “but remember to stick to the facts and have your arguments ready and well-rehearsed.”
For example, if someone says: ‘But what about Sweden?’ – a country that decided against lockdowns – Dr Yates says you could remind them Sweden fared relatively poorly, both in terms of their economic impact and their fatalities, compared to their Nordic neighbours. “Of course, the deniers will always have counter-arguments, but with a little reasoned thought these, too, can be unpicked,” he adds.
Being armed with data and studies for whatever possible outcome means you can counteract with viable explanations and reasoning – but remember, we’re not all wired the same.
“Everybody functions differently, so if you gave logical statistical facts, for some it’s too much and too hard to bear,” Constantinou adds. “Some people just can’t function that way and will always come from an emotional place and that seems to be the kind of disconnect.”
Avoid the social media argument.
Social media can be a minefield at the best of times, but the pandemic has sent it into overdrive. Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube are full of misleading and false Covid-19 claims – and you might even see your pals sharing such articles. The best approach? Don’t bring it up – online or offline.
“Take everything with a pinch of salt with social media,” Georgiou says. “People are constantly sharing articles and retweeting articles. Those articles have got headlines on them that are designed to enrage and add fire to the fuel. Understand the way social media and algorithms work, they set you up in a way to be angry and to feel passionate about something.”
Remember, take a step back, think before you comment, or don’t even comment at all. Save yourself the stress.
Agree to disagree.
When there’s a divide, it can easily manifest into a ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ situation, which can cause the rift to become even bigger.
“Everything had to change and for some, it’s just too much to bear and grasp with the reality of what’s actually going on,” says Constantinou. “People draw their own natural conclusions. With so much information floating around, it’s become unclear what to believe in and people start to think, ‘nothing can be true, someone must be lying along the way somewhere’.
“If people can smell a hint of a lie, they start to create their own system of belief.”
Your best bet if you’re struggling to get through to someone? Agree to disagree. Don’t get involved in heated debates for the sake of it. Steer clear and focus on what you can control, instead.