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Psychologists say Government nudge unit ‘used grossly unethical tactics to scare public into Covid compliance’

The UK governments' behavoural science police ir 'nudge unit' set up in 2010 to influence public attitudes on things like immigration and climate change has been working overtime during the COVID pandemic but have their methods of trying to scare people into complying with policy been acceptable in a democratic nation?

Greenteeth Digital Publishing
the daily stirrer

5 February 2022 2021

The UK government's creation of a 'nudge' unit with the aim of persuading dissenters to comply with government directives, get vaccinated and accept endless 'booster' shots was always controversial because of it's similarities with the way tyrannical regimes in communist China, The Soviet Union, National Socialist Germany and fascist Italy used propaganda combined with coercive measures and strongarm tactics to enforce policy. Now Members of Parliament are demanding an investigation into  the unit's activities  launch investigation after a group of 40 clinical and academic psychologists published a letter criticizing the Behavioural Insights Team, as it is officially known, for its use of totalitarian tactics of ‘deploying fear, shame and scapegoating’ during pandemic 

The psychologists also denounced the way “images of the acutely unwell in intensive care units” were used on billboard and television adverts without any reference to the very high percentage of COVID patients who experience only mild symptoms and the nine out of ten who tested positive and had no symptoms at all. Also targeted for criticism was what the “macabre mono focus on showing the number of Covid-19 deaths without mention of high survival rate of those hospitalised with COVID, mortality from other causes  9people who died 'with' COVID rather than of COVID, or the fact that, under normal circumstances, around 1,600 people die each day in the UK”.

The use of 'images of the acutely unwell in intensive care units' on billboards was condemned
The use of 'images of the acutely unwell in intensive care units' on billboards was condemned in the letter: Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

The signatories said it was “highly questionable whether a civilised society  should knowingly increase the emotional discomfort of its citizens as a means of gaining their compliance”.

The letter added: “Government scientists deploying fear, shame and scapegoating to change minds is an ethically dubious practice that in some respects resembles the tactics used by totalitarian regimes such as China, where the state inflicts pain on a subset of its population in an attempt to eliminate beliefs and behaviour they perceive to be deviant.”

The Government’s first “nudge unit” was established in the Cabinet Office in 2010 with the aim of applying behavioural science principles to public policy.  since then it has been used to encourage the public to pay their taxes, turn up in court and donate their organs when they die amongst other things.

Since its inception, like all governmental bureaucracies it has expanded into several quasi - autonomous units, the one involved in pandemic propaganda being devoted to public health matters.
Little is actually  known about how these “behavioural insights teams” operate, but like many government functions their work has been outsourced to service providers in the private sector, in the case of 'nudging' to influence public opinion to Public Relations companies which by definition are involved in the business of distorting information and misrepresenting facts.

Public Health England Behavioural Insights (PHEBI) describes itself as a team of behavioural scientists, including experts in behavioural economics, health psychology and evaluation, who work across PHE with local authorities and other relevant stakeholders to advise on policy and practice and apply and evaluate the evidence of behavioural science in public health. Which translates from the bullshit language of the public relations business to the science of telling lies in plain English.

The idea of 'nudging' is that instead of threatening people with laws and regulations, government can persuade people to change their behaviour through a constant stream of small, clever prompts. The techniques claimed successes include persuading homeowners to insulate their lofts, as well as changing the wording on HM Revenue and Customs letters, changing the tone from direct threats to  pseudo moralistic terms designed to generate guilt and thus ensure people pay their tax on time.

The method is controversial for many reasons, not least that it has its roots in some extremely unpleasant political philosophies, but little is known about exactly how it works, with some critics dismissing the unit as “simply a gimmick”.

Simon Ruda, a behavioural scientist, said there is a role for behavioural insight teams in driving improvements in public policy.

However in an article published by the news and comment website Unherd about the unit’s role during the pandemic, he said: “Nudging made subtle state influence palatable, but mixed with a state of emergency, have we inadvertently sanctioned state propaganda.”

It is beyond doubt that the unit was used in collaboration with The BBC and other broadcast and print news organisations by government to encourage compliance with coronavirus regulations during the pandemic. It is also becoming clear that those measures, which included lockdowns, social distancing regulations, mask mandates and the threats and coercive measures (for example vaccine passports) introduced by decree to avoid scrutiny by our elected representatives have failed as many of us involved in alt_news online who could be bothered to carry out impartial analysis predicted they would.

Let#s look at some of the fearmongering work of the nudge unit: One advert showed a close-up photo of an intensive care patient in a mask, with the caption: “Look her in the eyes and tell her you never bend the rules.”

Another said: “Look him in the eyes and tell him you always keep a safe distance”.

Actually these clumsy, heavy handed attempts to guilt trip habitual sceptics largely backfired, while respondents to opinion polls and participants in television or radio vox pop slots were cherry picked to give the impression that the public, by a huge majority, were supportive of government measures the reality in the streets was that most people were angry at the loss of freedom and damage to their lifestyles, their own experience was that few people they knew had been seriously ill with COVID and of those few the majority had been very old or had had pre - existing conditions which resulted in their auto - immune system being compromised. 

The letter drew attention to a government memo from March 2020, which suggested that “the perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent” and called for more frightening messaging. If that is not evidence that the whole thing was a massive deception, a propaganda exercise from day one, a smoking gun next to a fresh corpse with a bullet in its head is not evidence of murder

Even mainstream media, until recently unfailingly loyal to the government narrative, are reporting that Parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee will investigate the use of the behavioural insights team as part of its investigation into the Government’s activities during the pandemic. It will coincide with the second anniversary of the first lockdown. William Wragg MP, the committee’s chairman, said: “I think the central issue is how ‘nudge’ sits within parliamentary democracy and ministerial accountability.

“Normally, it's quite straightforward to know where lines of accountability are between the law, parliamentarians scrutinising the law and the public following it. And this is a wider question of how much, in a parliamentary democracy, sits outside of that approach.”

The psychologists also warned that “scare ads” have had unintended consequences.

“Shaming and scapegoating have emboldened some people to harass those unable or unwilling to wear a face covering,” they wrote.

“More disturbingly, the inflated fear levels will have significantly contributed to the many thousands of excess non-Covid deaths that have occurred in people’s homes, the strategically-increased anxieties discouraging many from seeking help for other illnesses.”

A damning conclusion, and though this site is not a fan of psychology in this case our own observations and investigations leave us no alternative than to agree. Propaganda is never to be welcomed, its purpose is to spread false information and deflect attention from the truth, and the propaganda we have seen throughout the pandemic is of the most unpleasant kind usually favoured by tyrannical regimes. It has no place in a democratic nation that values human rights and personal liberty.