Let’s stop the spread

Masks are effective because they stop the coronavirus from spreading to new hosts. Likewise, information, misinformation, and disinformation can spread only when passing through a human carrier.

BRATTLEBORO — Every single person who has ever played on any sort of team - sports or otherwise - has been exhorted by a passionate leader to put aside personal goals and play for the team.

A mask for one is a mask for all!

Why is this so hard to do during the twilight (at least, we hope) of the pandemic?

Malcolm Gladwell, in his 2006 book, The Tipping Point, used the epidemiological model to describe how information is rapidly transmitted throughout a population. The term “tipping point” refers to the point at which information, true or not, goes “viral” - that is, takes on a life of its own as it rapidly spreads throughout the population.

We now know this in the context of COVID-19 as “community spread.” In the last year, we have all become familiar with a new vocabulary of pandemics and vaccines and therapeutics, whether we like it or not.

We now face a virus that is mutating as it gallops through the global population. Since a virus cannot do so without a host, a critical method of keeping it in check is limiting its spread in the first place.

Information, misinformation, and disinformation all follow the same path. They can spread only when passing through a human carrier. With each repetition, the information tends to mutate just a little, and the changes continue to accumulate if unchecked.

For example, bad information gets progressively worse.

If you have ever played the game called “telephone,” you have seen this concept in action. You get 10 people in a line and whisper into the first person's ear a fairly complex sequence of instructions. That person turns and then whispers the info to the next person, and so on. By the time the info - like rumors about the pandemic and the effectiveness of wearing your mask - passes through 10 people, the final product can be astonishingly different from the initial whisper and, potentially, quite destructive.

That's why your mother told you not to gossip.

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So not unlike the virus, disinformation will rapidly achieve community spread through existing channels so rapidly that you can't identify the original source or verify the info. The disinformation will tend to mutate in a bizarre fashion.

Then, soon, people will believe that voting machines are controlled by Venezuelan dictators, or that masks and vaccines are engineered to cause harm.

The CDC has encouraged us to wear masks to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus as well as its ability to mutate. Perhaps we should we also wear earplugs to limit the spread of disinformation?

Or, better yet, we should use one of the most underutilized organs of our body - the brain - and exercise its extraordinary capacity to think critically.

Or maybe we could also encourage the media not to provide airtime to viral agents who knowingly and regularly transmit lies - it's like releasing oxygen over an open flame.

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Just as the mask will work to limit the spread of the coronavirus and its mutations until we all get vaccinated, critical thinking will limit the spread of disinformation.

We all need to use critical thinking and pass information through the filter of your actively engaged brain. Who said it? Where did it originate? Is the source dependable and credible? Does it make sense to me? What or whose purpose does it serve? Who will benefit from it? Am I letting myself be unduly influenced by the people in my sphere? Am I just going along? Should I seek contrary opinions?

The truthful - and sometimes painful - answers to all these questions are all the vaccination you will ever need to protect yourself, your family, and your country from the harm of disinformation.

The good news is that you don't have to wait for a vaccination to be fully distributed to protect yourself against the COVID-19 virus. Just wear a mask and use our critical thinking skills to preserve our well-being, both individually and as a nation.

Let's be all for one and one for all. And let's all take one for the team.

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