Public Wants Government Held to Account Over Use of Fear in Pandemic, Poll Shows

  5 April 2022

The use of behavioural psychology in influencing public behaviour during the pandemic – a.k.a. Project Fear – must be part of the U.K. COVID-19 Inquiry, say 42% of the public, according to a new poll. A State of Fear author Laura Dodsworth has more.

An independent new survey by opinion experts Yonder for grassroots organisation Recovery has revealed that the terms of reference fail to address major public concerns. Although the draft terms bullet-point no less than 32 separate areas of focus for the Inquiry, key areas of concern are missing.

Recovery found that:

• 42% want the Inquiry to consider the use of behavioural psychology in influencing public behaviour during the pandemic.
• 40% want restrictions on the media examined, reflecting concern over whether the actions of Ofcom and the main broadcasters and social media platforms compromised freedom of speech.
• 60% want a specific focus on children to be included in the inquiry – there is currently no mention of impact of Covid measures on children.

Jon Dobinson who heads up Recovery said:

“There are obvious dangers in the unchecked use of sophisticated psychological techniques by Government to alter people’s behaviour without their knowledge or consent. Behavioural psychologists were given free rein during the pandemic and their controversial use of fear in particular has had serious consequences for mental health. The Inquiry must bring some overdue scrutiny to the work of the nudge unit: controls on its techniques are vital.”

The Government’s unprecedented use of ‘nudge’ techniques to promote fear caused real harm to people, Laura says.

Behavioural science played an unprecedented role in the management of the pandemic – it’s why I wrote A State of Fear: How the U.K. Government weaponised fear during the COVID-19 pandemic. It must be considered as part of the Inquiry.

SPI-B shocked the world when it said in March 2020 that the public needed to be frightened so that they would comply with lockdown requirements, because “a substantial number of people still do not feel sufficiently personally threatened”, recommending that ministers increase “the perceived level of personal threat” posed by Covid, and to frighten the British public with “hard-hitting emotional messaging” to encourage adherence to the emergency lockdown regulations.

Whatever you think of lockdown and restrictions there has to be public accountability for the covert psychological techniques used to encourage adherence to the rules. They have caused collateral damage, made recovery harder and are anti-democratic.

In March 2021, Recovery commissioned an independent poll from Yonder and found that 15% of respondents reported depression, anxiety or fear as a direct result of Government pandemic advertising. A further 7% reported that the advertising made an existing mental health condition worse: that’s almost 12 million people around the country whose mental health was damaged by an unprecedented Government advertising campaign designed to create fear. And 3% said that the advertising had brought on an entirely new mental health condition requiring treatment.

Worth reading in full.

By Will Jones  /  5 April 2022


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