It’s not unusual for my relatives or friends to talk about kooky ideas. But now others’ believing in hoaxes or bad information feels dangerous. This drug is a miracle cure! Blame this billionaire for the virus!
I tried to figure out what we can do when someone we love believes in coronavirus conspiracies they see online.
What I learned is we need to have empathy for people who are afraid of a scary illness. We should be on the lookout for those who have reasons to talk up misinformation. And with trust in authority figures falling among many Americans, we can step in and spread good information to people who trust us and model good behavior.
“Conspiracy theories seem especially likely to take hold during disasters and tragedies when people experience a loss of control and are trying to make sense of the world,” said Brendan Nyhan, a Dartmouth College professor who studies misperceptions about politics and health care.
We’re fallible. Sometimes we worry about the wrong things. Reasonable people can disagree, particularly when knowledge about this virus keeps shifting.
We also need to train ourselves and our loved ones to look behind the curtain for people with a political message and others who have incentives to fan our fears in crises, said Renée DiResta, who researches disinformation at the Stanford Internet Observatory.
But Nyhan said it’s counterproductive to spend too much energy trying to refute people we disagree with, whether it’s friends, talking heads on television or politicians. If we put all our attention on misinformation, he said, “the communication becomes too focused on what’s not true rather than what is.”
Instead, he said it’s better to amplify accurate messages. Nyhan credited sports stars like Steph Curry, health care officials and entertainers who helped spread the message that the coronavirus was dangerous and that people could best protect themselves by staying home as much as possible and keeping their distance from people outside their households.
Like those celebrities, we can spread helpful information to people who believe what we say.
Nyhan and DiResta, who has written extensively about misinformation about vaccines, said they were worried that fear-mongering or a lack of trust in government authorities will undermine a potential coronavirus vaccine. We might be able to help there, too.
Maybe your brother doesn’t trust the C.D.C., Nyhan said, but he probably does trust you, his kid’s school principal and his church deacon. They should tout the importance of vaccines. Someone in our lives relies on us. And we can harness that trust to help keep ourselves informed and our communities safe.
Amazon dominates online shopping a bit less
We talked in Wednesday’s newsletter about people’s mixed experiences shopping on Amazon in this pandemic. There’s evidence that many are shopping more than usual at places other than Amazon.
After years of Americans devoting bigger chunks of our online spending to Amazon, we are shifting in the other direction for now.
Out of every dollar that Americans spent shopping online in the week ending April 10, about 35.5 cents was on Amazon. Until then, Amazon was getting about 40 to 44 cents of each online spending dollar, according to the market research firm Rakuten Intelligence.
It’s hard to know exactly why. Companies like Home Depot and especially Target, plus the groceries delivery service Instacart, are getting more of our online dollars than they typically do, Rakuten figures show. It may be because we’re buying more groceries, which people don’t tend to buy on Amazon. Or Amazon’s shortages and shipping delays may be turning some people off.
Amazon’s delivery times, which had been hovering around two days on average, went as high as four days in mid-March, Rakuten said. Delivery speeds have started to fall back down. Shipping times of other companies, which usually take longer to deliver than Amazon, also slowed down.
Fun fact: Before this pandemic, about 85 percent of Americans’ retail spending still happened in physical stores. If this crisis makes us shop online more, Amazon will be a big winner. But more competition might make everyone try harder for our money.
Before we go …
When the boss cares about the details again: After years of focusing on the big picture, Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, has dived back into day-to-day company management during the pandemic, my colleague Karen Weise reports. Bezos is participating in daily calls about product inventory, obsessing about coronavirus testing and is getting involved in Amazon’s response to public criticism.
Is Twitter good now? That’s what a trio of my smart and hilarious colleagues debated. Personally, if my options are: scroll Twitter, wash my endless pile of dishes or have an honest thought about my own fears … then TWITTER IT IS.
TikTok is influencing how musicians title their songs. To make sure people can search for their songs online, musicians are changing vague titles like “ily” to match the snippets of lyrics people hear on TikTok, Rolling Stone writes. Dance routines on the short-video app are where many people discover new music. Also: You gotta applaud the creativity of teenagers remaking prom on TikTok. Look at these girls!
Hugs to this
Bob Ross petting a baby deer. That’s it. Just watch it. (And if you share my love for television’s prolific, dulcet-voiced landscape painter, you will enjoy this mystery of where all his artwork went.)