Mississippi and Federal Health Officials Needlessly Complicate COVID Awareness Messages | Mississippi Politics and News
. . . and it costs lives
Last week, the Mississippi Department of Health made a decision to restrict comments on its Facebook page due to some comments “misleading the public about the safety, importance and effectiveness of vaccination. “. The media establishment, normally on the side of openness and transparency in government at all levels, essentially glorified the effort. Mississippi news outlets that would normally publish at the top of their lungs against public news outlets obscuring dissenting voices have remained silent.
It probably didn’t help soon after Mississippi’s COVID Czar Dr. Thomas Dobbs got caught on a live Facebook feed mocking people worried about vaccinations as “anti-Nazis.” -science ‘and’ apology apes’, then proceeds to enter a Twitter back and forth with an attention-seeking former House member who finished far third in a Republican primary at three two years ago.
Before I get into what is a very valid MSDH review of a few bad PR moves, let me say it again, I think everyone should get a COVID shot. Complete stop. I did it for me. Mathematics as I have calculated it is unassailable.
Now MSDH has determined that because random people have commented in a way that might conflict with MSDH’s posts on the comments section of its Facebook page, people are at risk. This, of course, presupposes that there weren’t already people who were anti-vaccine or at least skeptical about COVID in some ways.
In a related nationwide story, the White House selectively flagged content for Facebook and encouraged its removal along the same school of thought. Under the distopic label of “disinformation,” the White House is listing and urging social media to silence voices with all the weight and influence of the world’s most powerful political bureau.
Whether it’s the White House or the MS Health Department, this bossy and brutal treatment of people who disagree with them is the height of arrogance and deafness. This presupposes that anyone who reads things on Facebook is a moron unable to decide for themselves what is true and what is not. I can tell you that in 16 years of Y’all Politics there have been tens of thousands of comments on our Facebook posts that I disagree with, but unless they are defamatory we let’s generally take the position that people should be free to express themselves.
Unfortunately, Mississippians (and Americans in general) have a long history of ignoring public health advice. Not wearing a seat belt can kill you. Smoking can kill you. Being fat can kill you. And public health advocates have been screaming for decades about all three and yet people are still making choices. Probably the bad ones. . . but their choice anyway. COVID public health advice is now delivered with such moralism, and there appears to be a clear intention to just beat people into submission. People generally don’t like it and oppose it.
The difference now and clearly what the MSDH doesn’t understand is that so many COVID vaccine-hesitant individuals believe in their hearts that COVID has been politically militarized. He was armed to dramatically change the course of the 2020 political campaign.
Kamala Harris says if there is a coronavirus vaccine adopted by science advisers, she will be “the first to take it. … But if Donald Trump tells us to take it, I won’t take it.” https://t.co/V7iNHCGjKv pic.twitter.com/pzZXXV38ia
– CNN (@CNN) October 8, 2020
COVID has been used to justify billions of dollars in new spending, and it is being used as an excuse to nationalize and drastically change voting practices. And there is a lot of angst about it among Conservatives, who are universally described as morons for daring to push it all off. They consider that more than 90% of the mainstream media are complicit in this effort. Social media is at least a place where average people can feel they can at least speak and maybe be heard.
Now, MSDH’s primary delivery mechanism for its COVID messages has been the mainstream media. Press conferences, TV commercials and newspaper articles / interviews are the main focus. It certainly makes intuitive sense, especially at the onset of the pandemic. But now things have changed. When you realize how wary the preservatives, who are disproportionately resistant to vaccines, are to these sources, advances in advocacy and MSDH messages have come to a standstill completely. Her initial strategy reached its limits thanks to the messaging channels she chose.
A Gallup poll released this week shows just 10% of Conservatives trust mainstream media – and that’s nationwide. In Mississippi, it’s probably more like 5%. This should come as no surprise to anyone. The prejudices of the mainstream media in Mississippi and nationwide are systemic, and the vast majority of mainstream media in Mississippi have genuine contempt for average Mississippians. But the 10% confidence ratings are out there with telemarketers selling you an extended warranty on your car. Spoiler alert – 73% of Democrats trust the same mainstream media in the same poll.
MSDH as part of its health mission, must find a way to speak and target conservatives in their messages. And it is not controversial. He has previously targeted demographic groups on outreach for a variety of public health messages. But conservatives believe the media is hurting them, and at least in Mississippi, those with their hands on the lever have considerable contempt for core Conservative voters in Mississippi. And now Dobbs has given people who are hesitant to vaccinate a very easy excuse to ignore public health advice from people they perceive to be fools.
Whether the MSDH has the legal right to selectively edit or simply stop Facebook comments is questionable. What is not debatable is that doing so will further distance MSDH from the people it most needs to reach right now. Vaccination hesitation and skepticism about COVID long predated the MSDH Facebook page. But trying to muzzle the very people you are trying to help by claiming that the comments section of the MSDH Facebook page has similar persuasive power to Svengali’s on public health matters is not just a bad PR – that’s bad public health policy.
MSDH has a difficult mission here. I understand. The politicization of COVID was not their fault. But it is real and they seem deaf to this reality. COVID has made everyone – and I mean everyone – look bad. Public health officials, government officials, the media, political candidates, doctors, and policymakers have all had eggs on their faces at some point due to the evolving nature of COVID. No one (Trump, Biden, Fauci, Dobbs, Reeves or the media) got it right from the start.
No one has cornered the market on what is true, either politically or from a public health perspective.
MSDH and Dobbs should immediately develop a certain humility and awareness of the environment in which they find themselves. They should try to reach populations in a meaningful way by engaging people they trust. Get out of their self-induced media bubble. Don’t be afraid of criticism or if people are speaking out. Seek advice and cooperation from people who can help you reach these populations. Don’t be judgmental and for goodness sake don’t make fun of people who are reluctant to get vaccinated.
We are all in the same boat (even those with whom we disagree and those who disagree with us). State and federal health officials should act accordingly.