During a pandemic, it is important to correct falsehoods with evidence-based information, but facts against misinformation can sometimes be ineffective. Rumours and myths are an opportunity to understand and respond to anxieties of the people spreading them, and then adjusting messaging to respond to those.
“Epidemics often become an opportunity for people to express deeper worries,” says Melissa Leach, the director of the U.K.-based Institute of Development Studies (IDS). In fact, Leach balks at the term rumours, which she finds dismissive. Call them “anxieties,” she says. Leach and other social scientists have come to see those anxieties as legitimate reactions that can be mined for useful insight — insight that can help public health officials tailor their messaging.
Rumors spread for political or sinister reasons should simply be debunked though.