Fake Maps, Navajo Nation battles, and Digital Health cards
Fighting misrepresentation, exaggerated truths, and outright fake news is no easy task. It has turned wearing masks, reopening schools, eating out, and traveling on planes into fractious questions.
Every day we are forced to independently seek out new facts, determine which experts to trust, assess health risks, make judgment calls, and confront our own biases head-on. Depending on what you read on any given issue, your view may radically differ from your neighbor’s. Furthermore, how our biases seep into our analysis also changes our conclusions.
That’s where being Savvy comes in. We don’t have the answers (no one does) but we can help you navigate the misinformation and confront your own biases more sharply. In this newsletter, we focus on the major stories and how certain cognitive biases hurt our ability to make better decisions. If you think this newsletter will be valuable to a friend, please don’t hesitate to share it.
The Story of Two Arizonas. What it takes to fight the pandemic
Arizona has 124,000 COVID-19 cases, a positivity rate of 11.9%, and 2,245 deaths. Its reproduction rate is the second-highest in the country and its curve isn’t flattening. ICUs are nearly full and hospitals are preparing for the outbreak to get even worse. A caveat to this bleak picture comes from the Navajo Nation, which occupies northeastern parts of the state. They are successfully containing the spread with:
- 57-hour weekend curfews when all businesses have to be closed
- Nightly lockdowns on weekdays to prevent spread of the virus
- Fundraising to help those in need via global crowdfunding campaigns
- Translating COVID-19 updates into Navajo for those with limited English
- Getting protective equipment & contamination trailers from the government
Leaders in the Navajo Nation say that in addition to the above, flattening the curve takes wearing masks, washing your hands with soap and water, social distancing, and abiding by shelter in place orders to reduce the spread. Even though the Navajo Nation has 55% unemployment and 38% of the population in poverty, it has figured out how to flatten the curve. So can the rest of America.
Bottom Line: Flattening the curve is not rocket science. But it takes a concerted partnership between local, state, and federal leaders all providing the same fact-based guidance. That’s not happening in most of America today.
Design tweaks to reduce the spread of misinformation
Simple design tweaks can have a transformative influence on how much misinformation can be spread via a social media platform. Twitter is testing a tool that will limit our ability to retweet an article that we haven’t read as yet. According to a landmark study by Columbia University and the French National Institute, nearly 60% of links shared on social media platforms have not been read before being re-shared. This new feature inserts friction into the process of retweeting.
A tweak like this will hurt the platform by reducing engagement but it’ll ultimately help society. Barely two years ago, WhatsApp limited the number of people a message can be shared with to just five after widespread sharing of messages on the platform in India led to mob violence. This spring WhatsApp introduced further controls.
Bottom Line: Alongside a virus pandemic, we’re in a huge misinformation pandemic. Social media platforms need to curtail sharing on their platforms until they get better at operationally managing hate. They need to do more.
Some more COVID-19 lessons from Taiwan
A mere 100 miles from mainland China, Taiwan was poised to be a COVID-19 disaster. Yet, on a per-capita basis, the US has 1,200 more deaths from COVID-19 than does Taiwan. Unemployment in Taiwan has “surged” to 4.1% while the US is projected to end the year at 16% unemployment.
In an earlier newsletter, we talked about the vital role Taiwan’s Vice President is playing as an epidemiologist to keep the virus at bay. But he isn’t the only reason for the country’s success. Their digital health cards are critical too. They give doctors and hospitals near real-time updates on each individual’s health, tests, and medical history. The system was repurposed for COVID-19 as a tracing weapon, helping the government to effectively identify, test, trace, and isolate cases.
Taiwan’s digital health infrastructure works because of interoperability between various health systems allowing patient data to be easily aggregated and shared. Here in America, we’re comfortable with giving away our most private data to Google, Amazon, and Facebook but are reluctant to share health data with the Department of Health and Human Services. That needs to change if we want to combat the virus more effectively.
Bottom Line: Real-time monitoring of health data is vital to improving the management of COVID-19. Medicare and Medicaid need to adopt digital health cards and allow trusted third parties to proactively identify infectious outbreaks and other medical emergencies.
Suffering from Learned Helplessness in the COVID-19 era
Every week we take new measures to protect ourselves from contracting the COVID-19 virus. Our counties and states have ever-changing guidelines dictating what we can and cannot do. Our President contradicts our scientists and chooses to ignore and disregard science. This will have ramifications, one of which is increased learned helplessness.
Defined as a condition in which a person suffers from a sense of powerlessness arising from a traumatic event or persistent failure to succeed, learned helplessness is a primary cause of depression. Using dogs as test subjects, psychologist Martin Seligman discovered that a human’s reaction to a feeling a lack of control over an inability to escape a harmful situation (electric shocks in the case of the dog experiments), may have longer-term consequences.
Hearing conflicting and confusing advice day in and day out may lead us to believe that whatever we do to limit the spread of the virus will not have a meaningful impact. This can result in us not taking actions necessary to help flatten the curve. Furthermore, it can lead to depression and apathy, fundamentally weakening the American “can do” spirit that has been at the heart of our country’s resilience. How can we fight these risks to our physical and mental well being?
- Don’t lose optimism. Other countries have successfully combatted COVID-19. Take a look at Italy, China, Germany, and New Zealand. If they can, then so can we.
- Draw inspiration from positive actions that your county, neighborhood, or family have taken in the last few months.
- Set SMART goals for yourself and your family: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Results-oriented, and Time-bound.
- Pause and implement self-care when stressed. Be gentle with your family and yourself. Try activities like meditation, journaling, napping, and hiking.
Bottom Line: Learned helplessness should be a serious concern. Fight it by not succumbing to apathy and a sense of defeat. What you do in your own world, can make a difference.
Misinformation makes its way to Georgia COVID-19 maps
COVID-19 has become a political lightning rod. As a result, the maps that are used to show its spread are fertile ground for misinformation. A case in point is how Georgia Governor Brian Kemp changed the scale on a map depicting COVID-19 spread to hide the fact that it was increasingly infecting people at an alarming rate. Take a look at the two maps above. The images may appear to be similar but then look at the scale. That’s when you’ll discover how maps can misinform.
Bottom Line: Misinformation doesn’t just spread through words. When you’re comparing two maps, make sure to pay attention to the scale.
Updates from the last newsletter
Savvy — Navigating Fake Companies, Fake Leaders & Fake News in the Post Trust Era won yet another award. This time taking the Current Events category in the 14th Annual NIEA awards. With the coronavirus pandemic and misinformation on the rise once again, there’s fresh interest in Savvy and speaking engagements (albeit virtually)
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