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Govt urged to counter Covid-19 conspiracy theories

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Covid conspiracies in SA “driven by lack of information and uncertainty”

File picture: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

LACK of information and uncertainty are among the main factors driving South Africans to share and spread conspiracy theories, which cause emotional distress, on social media.

Psychologists and therapists who have recorded a rise in emotional distress among South Africans have noted an alarming increase in the number of negative online posts about Covid-19 and vaccines for it, following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s address on Monday evening.

This is according to findings in an ongoing study by the Gross National Happiness (GNH) team at Johannesburg University, headed by Professor Talita Greyling and Dr Stephanie Rossouw from Auckland University of Technology.

“Failure by the government to counter the lack of information and initiate transparency has caused negative emotions in South Africans to soar,” the GNH team said.

The team, which developed the GNH to measure the emotions of people in real-time, added: “As negative emotions in South Africa are already rife, it is of the utmost importance that negative emotions are recognised and addressed, so that the economy and health and social well-being of people can then be improved.

“The government should balance negative emotions with positive emotional appeals so that exposure to misinformation is limited. Messages about vaccines should be framed in a positive manner, highlighting the positive outcomes of the vaccine. Moreover, an earnest appeal should be made to all community, religious, labour union, and political leaders to enforce these positive emotions.”

Meanwhile, a fintech company, CompariSure, has reported that a staggering 52% of South Africans do not want to take the vaccine.

CompariSure has been surveying South Africans from all walks of life on their thoughts around the latest Covid-19 developments.

“From our most recent survey, we saw that just over 50% of respondents answered ’No’ to a direct question on whether they were willing to get the vaccine when it became available,” says Matt Kloos, CFO of CompariSure.

When asked why they were unwilling to get a vaccine, 34% of users cited “Side effects” as their main concern. Other commonly stated reasons for rejecting the jab included “Religion” (13%) and “Cost/price” (16%), with approximately 40% of respondents stating “Other”, with reasons like “fear of needles” and “government tracking” being supplied.