Ticker of Doom

2020

There’s currently a huge amount of highly important data and information that governments, universities, employers and corporations need to disperse far and wide.

I often find myself in the position of advising groups or individuals about well-meaning outreach that has the opposite intended effect.

Usually it is about stigma and identity and the fact that many communications can make the very people that we are trying to help actually feel bad about themselves. It happens all too often and never on purpose.

Communications staffers now need to be vigilant not to increase community stress as they themselves are under stress to deliver information. Not a small task, I fully concede; government and healthcare departments, particularly, are working to capacity and beyond, doing critical work. But it’s important that we balance our desire for delivering honest information with its potential for promulgating panic and fear.

I have noticed a number of local government and health sites around the country running what I have been calling a “stock ticker of doom” across the top of their websites. It lists the number of people infected, hospitalized, under quarantine, etc. I know it is there for a singular honest purpose: to keep citizens informed. But let’s take a step back and look at how this might play out. Over the next few weeks, these numbers are probably going to skyrocket. If so, the numbers will be scary. Essentially the website will be saying, “Be Very Afraid!!!” And then say, let’s all calm down and get through this.

I’m not convinced that this information is truly important to the general public – it too easily becomes something to become fixated upon. I certainly don’t believe that it needs to be the first thing people see.

I’d reverse the order. Let’s give people the confidence to feel calm and then deliver them information inside of that protective shell. Give them things that they feel they can control or things that public health agencies and others are working to control before telling them things that they have no real control over.

Instead of running the numbers as an updating ribbon one cannot miss, put it behind a button marked “Data” or “Current Statistics.” That way they are easy to find, but also easy to do without.

Of course, people must take Covid-19 seriously and I understand that there is a feeling of needing to overturn a cavalier approach that some have previously pushed, or just to get people to fully focus, but panic and fear only lead to bad decisions and end-of-world behavior. Hoarding, selfishness, xenophobia…

Our public health and medical communities are still at the beginning of what will be a Herculean task. Let’s push calmness, community and caring.And then let people look for and find the statistics if they really want them. Communities cannot be frightened and calm at the same time.

We may just be getting to the end of the first wave of panic. Let’s keep it that way.

– Simon Dixon

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