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Vox Populi: Japan’s lack of disclosure over virus only fuels harmful rumors

  • April 2, 2020
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 12:25 p.m.
  • English Press

According to “The Psychology of Rumor,” a classic work of social psychology by Gordon Allport and Leo Postman, the extent to which rumors circulate is determined by two essential conditions, and the relation between them is “multiplicative,” not “additive.”


One condition is the importance of the issue to the people concerned. The other is the ambiguity of official information.


Rumor is fueled by the absence or incompleteness of information.


The “lockdown” rumor that went viral on the internet in Japan in late March is a perfect example.


“The government will declare a state of emergency on April 1, and cities will start going into lockdown on April 2,” went the message, triggering frenzied shopping and hoarding in the greater Tokyo metropolitan area.


It goes without saying that this is a matter of crucial importance to the public.


And yet, information issued by the government has been incomplete and ambiguous, and there is no clear indication of exactly how the authorities intend to deal with the situation.


Save for the successful development of a vaccine, or for 60 to 70 percent of the population becoming infected by the virus and developing collective immunity, the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be brought under control.


But what prospects do experts see of getting there? And what strategy does the government have in mind?


I definitely do not think the government is making sufficient efforts to explain the situation.


The government has a track record of withholding vital information.


When it was already becoming obvious to the public that staging the Tokyo Olympics on schedule would be extremely difficult, the government abruptly announced the Games’ postponement without elaboration.


And now that the rescheduled opening date has been set for next summer, my worry is that this timetable will inhibit the government from candid disclosure of the present realities of the contagion.


In discussing the nature of rumors, the authors of “The Psychology of Rumor” note to the effect that rumors explode when the health of society as an organic entity is at its weakest in terms of resistance.

For society to maintain resistance against rumors, the availability of undistorted information is indispensable.

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