Understanding Covid Denial

Individuals have had a range of reactions to the pandemic: terror, apathy, and denial chief among them. Why do we react so differently?

Dave Olsen

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Covid denial has been occupying my thoughts for a while. You can tell from my stories over the past few months: ‘Why Covid-19 Is Much Worse Than The Flu’, ‘Everything We Get Wrong About COVID-19’, and ‘Why Is Screening Asymptomatic People For COVID-19 So Difficult?’

Driven though I may have been to dispel myths about the pandemic and clear things up, I’ve struggled to really think about why we get so much misinformation, disinformation, and denial in our public discourse. The vehicles for the spread of this misinformation are fairly obvious: social media is the chief culprit, but the media world is far more diverse generally than it was thirty or forty years ago, with new talk radio stations, internet forums, and news networks. This diversification has given rise to more media appealing to the fringes of political thought and society, including Covid denial.

But an understanding of the vehicles driving misinformation, albeit important, is not an understanding of why there are so many people believing in, and even investing in, misinformation and denial. It doesn’t explain what it is that makes people susceptible to conspiracy theories, misinformation, and the mindset of denial.

In the simplest terms, the question that has been occupying my mind is: why are some people Covid deniers, and others not?

It’s important to understand what Covid denier means first. It should be distinguished from apathy, or ignorance to Covid: those who may ignore the rules on a purely trivial basis, not on the basis of their opposition to or disbelief in the science of the pandemic. Covid deniers are exactly that: those who refuse to accept the scientific realities and the word of our political and scientific leaders.

(As an aside, they are also not those who break rules, such as failing to quarantine when they develop symptoms, because of their economic situation — though there may obviously be some overlap.)

That doesn’t mean all deniers think Covid is a “hoax”, but that they believe the size of the pandemic is exaggerated by…

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Dave Olsen

Political and policy analysis | Operations Director, politika.org.uk | Student, University of Oxford | twitter.com/dave_olsen16