Covid vaccine and mask conspiracies succeed when they appeal to identity and ideology

Once a person feels part of a community or a movement, the adherence to a science-free, health misinformation position may begin to feel brave.

NBC News
December 18, 2020

We all do it to some degree. We adopt perspectives and behaviors because they seem consistent with our personal identity. We make one decision (making an effort to buy only organic food, for instance) and that shapes future decisions and beliefs (such as views on the safety of genetically modified organisms). Our personal brand matters.

Playing to a person’s personal identity — that is, how they view themselves and how they want others to see them — has always played a role in the uptake and spread of health misinformation. It is, for instance, a foundational marketing strategy of the wellness industry. Wellness gurus and celebrity lifestyle companies push potions (unproven supplements), products (crystals, vagina eggs), and ideas (energy healing, cleansing) that fit the vibe of their brand and their consumer’s expectations — science and evidence be damned.

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in an intensification of this use of personal identity as a way to push conspiracy theories, unproven treatments and ideological agendas...

People come for the ideological spin (especially if it fits their pre-existing personal identity) and stay despite the science-free lunacy. Unfortunately, we are seeing more and more of this kind of messaging — that is, the use of intuitively appealing language, such as “freedom” and “choice” — in the context of vaccines. As recently noted by associate professor David Broniatowski from George Washington University, the "framing vaccine refusal as a civil right allows vaccine opponents to sidestep the science.” And with the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines just around the corner, this couldn’t be happening at a worst time.

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