1st Edition

Risk and Crisis Communication During the COVID-19 Pandemic Muddled Messages

By Martin N. Ndlela Copyright 2024
    200 Pages 4 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book examines the challenges of communicating messages during the COVID-19 pandemic and provides recommendations for managing future global health crises.

    Given that outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics are global crises that require global solutions, the book suggests that the world community needs to build resilient crisis management institutions and message management systems. Through international case studies, in-depth interviews, and textual, content, narrative, and document analysis, the book provides comprehensive accounts of how normative risk communication strategies were invoked, applied, disrupted, questioned, and changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. It explores themes including crisis preparedness, outbreak communication, lockdown messages, communication uncertainty, risk message strategies, and the challenges of information disorders. It argues that trust in supranational and national institutions is crucial for the effective management of future global public health crises.

    A thorough assessment of the multiple challenges faced by public health authorities and audiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, this book will be of interest to researchers, practitioners, and students in the field of Risk, Crisis and Health Communication and Public Health and Disaster Management.

    1. The COVID-19 Pandemic 

    Introduction: “Communicate with Your People about the Risks”

    Public Health Risk

    Emergency Risk and Crisis Communication

    The Purpose of Risk Communication

    Public Health Preparedness

    Instructional Communication

    Persuasive Communication

    Effective Risk and Crisis Communication    



    2. COVID-19: An Unexpected Pandemic?   


    The Pandemic – The Black Swan or the Gray Rhino?

    Pandemics in History 

    Public Health Preparedness

    The Pandemic Crisis Response          



    3. The World’s First Digital Pandemic         


    Audience Fragmentation        

    Algorithms, Bots, and AI        

    Manipulable Messages           

    Active Audiences       

    The Decline of Gatekeepers  

    New Forms of Gatekeeping     

    Many-to-Many Communication        

    Influencers as Sources of News



    4. Outbreak Communication 


    Timeliness of Outbreak Notifications

    The ‘Crying Wolf’ Effect        

    Transparency in Outbreak Communication    

    The Political Aspects of Outbreaks     

    Unintended Consequences: Inform and Be Damned           

    Co-ordination and Collaboration         

    Perception of Risk



    5: Lockdown Messages          


    Lockdown: Revisiting Centuries-Old Strategies           

    Lockdown Messages. Adherence, Compliance, and Non-Compliance


    Message Types

    Case Studies   

    South Africa’s Thuma Mina       

    Appeal – “The Most Definitive Thuma Mina Moment”           

    Shift to a Discourse of War     

    Militarized Lockdown

    Why Lockdown Couldn’t Work

    Norway’s Dugnad Moment

    Invitation til Dugnad: Shared Responsibility and Togetherness

    Trust and Solidarity   

    Conclusion – “One-Size Does Not Fit All”


    6. Communicating Uncertainty


    Defining Uncertainty 

    Sources of Uncertainty in COVID-19

    Theories on Communication and Uncertainty           

    The Communicator    

    The Message

    The Audience

    Communicating Uncertainty During the Pandemic           

    What Are the Best Ways to Communicate Uncertainty?



    7.  Risk Messages, Form, and Context


    Strategic and Tactical Considerations

    Information-Poor Context

    Risk Information Vacuum

    Message Purpose: What Messages Hope to Achieve

    Message Presentation Formats

    Numerical Communication: The Power and Politics of Numbers

    Verbal Communication of Risk

    Visual Presentation

    Why Context Matters



    8: Audiences and Messages


    The Audience

    Multivocality and Multiple Publics

    The Rhetorical Situation

    The Cultural Context

    Hard-to-Reach Audience

    How to Overcome Obstacles with “Hard-to-Reach” Audiences

    Communication-as-dialogue Approach           

    Reaching Distrustful Audiences via Trusted Communicators

    Reaching Hard-to-Reach Audiences through Influencers     



    9: Public Trust


    Conceptualising Trust

    Need for Trust

    Public Trust in Political Leadership

    From Ebola to COVID-19

    Leveraging “Trust Capital”

    Public Trust in Health Institutions

    Vaccination: The Problem of Trust

    Trust in Messengers

    Trust in Media

    Post-Truth and the Erosion of Trust



    10: The Infodemic Scourge


    Data-Driven Pandemic

    COVID-19 Information Disorders

    Fake News in Pandemic Times

    Beliefs in Conspiracy Theories

    The Challenges of Filter Bubbles and Echo Chambers

    Harmful Assertions

    Misleading (False) Remedies

    Traditional Asian Medicine

    Africa: Banking on Herbal Remedies

    Faith-Themed Misinformation

    Scientific Misinformation and COVID-19 Vaccines

    Political Misinformation

    Combating the Infodemic



    11: What We Have Learned from the Pandemic


    Learning from Crises: “A Threat Anywhere Is a Threat Everywhere”

    Pandemic Preparedness: “Being Prepared Is the Key”

    Crisis Communication Plans in the Age of AI

    Understanding and Leveraging Digital Communication

    Understanding the Fundamentals of Social Media

    Revisiting the Role of the Mass Media

    Understanding Audiences

    Trust Is the Glue of Pandemic Communication

    Trust in Public Authorities

    Trusted Spokesperson

    Culturally Specific Messages Delivered by Trusted Messengers

    Messages Must Be Grounded on Reliable Data

    Openness and Transparency in Communication

    Timeliness and Consistency of Messages

    Two-Way Crisis Communication

    Combating Misinformation and Disinformation





    Martin N. Ndlela is a Professor of Crisis Communication at Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, Norway, and Research Associate at the Department of Strategic Communication, University of Johannesburg.