The problem with fear-based COVID-19 messaging

Fear-based messaging is often persuasive, but it has not been an effective way to promote COVID-19 vaccines or social distancing, Fast Company reported Feb. 20.

Fear appeals must first describe danger and then explain how to mitigate it. Both parts need to be effective for the appeal to work, according to the report.

If people don't believe the danger poses a significant threat, they often see no need to pay attention to potential solutions. The ideas that COVID-19 is a hoax or only as serious as a common cold circulated widely during the early phase of the pandemic and are still proliferating on social media, which undermines Americans' ability to respond to fear-based messaging.

Additionally, people must believe potential solutions are attainable and effective. Online misinformation has influenced many Americans to the point they believe social distancing and vaccines are not proven ways to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Fear appeals have further been thwarted by the frequency of changes in the CDC's guidance, as people are more likely to act when problems and solutions are straightforwardly laid out. Fear appeals have also been hampered by rampant online misinformation claiming the government has nefarious intentions for promoting vaccines, according to the report.


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