Photo by Ryan Brinkman | Photo Editing by Haley Hoidal
A year and a half of COVID-19 talk, COVID-19 arguments and COVID-19 opinions — and the debates are ongoing. People question everything from whether the virus is fake to whether the pandemic will ever end. While there might be relief in sight for the pandemic, there isn’t any in sight for the ongoing divide over its effects.
Whether someone is extra careful about masks and fully supportive of vaccine mandates, or they are opposed to masks and refuse to get vaccinated — everyone has an opinion about the pandemic. In addition, 48.6% of Pepperdine students polled say their relationships have been negatively affected by people’s opinions over COVID-19, according to a recent Graphic survey of 146 Pepperdine students.
“It seems that we can all agree on facts surrounding COVID,” senior Psychology and Philosophy double major Raymond Rider said. “What everybody seems to be so heated about is what we ought to do with that data.”
How Opinions Form About COVID-19
Opinions can change throughout the course of the pandemic, as 61.6% of students polled said their opinions changed, and 42.4% said their opinions about masks changed since spring 2020.
“When this first started, every day, I was looking at the statistics, the numbers, hospitalization rates, infection rates, death rates,” Rider said. “It was just making me crazy.”
But as the pandemic went on, Rider said people started to hear about other’s opinions instead of just the facts.
“I have crazy family members on Facebook; I know how it goes,” Rider said. “There’s that one person in the family who goes a little crazy on COVID stuff. I don’t think that’s helpful.”
Not only are people opinionated about COVID-19 for their own health and safety but also because the pandemic has affected lives across the country and the world for over 18 months — whether through quarantine, unemployment, a loss of a family member or friend or a financial hardship.
“It’s an invisible killer,” Royster said.
In addition, people’s personal experiences with the pandemic shape the way they feel about it, Royster said.
“If you have grandparents who are old and sick, then you don’t want to be around them,” Royster said. “But of course, if your family — like the majority of families — are healthy, then it’s not as affective to you.”
Assistant Professor of Communication Daniel Overton said opinions formed about COVID-19 when it became less about guidance from the CDC and more about guidance from political leaders.
“People felt like it was the kind of issue you had to take a political stance on,” Overton said. “If you’re on one side, you’re all about what he [former President Donald Trump] is saying. And if you’re on the other, then you’re very much against it.”
In addition, Overton said people’s opinions form based on where they are from and based on what the protocols they are required to follow.
“People in different places have very different levels of respect or protocol for the virus,” Overton said. “I certainly see a wide variety from especially my California friends that I have here, versus a lot of my family and friends back from Tennessee in my home state.”
Speaking Up About the Pandemic
While some students are extra vocal about their opinions on the pandemic, others don’t want to say a word in fear of offending someone around them.
“People touch on the subject but then instantly step back,” Rider said. “We don’t want to possibly alienate somebody who feels a different way.”
Rider said the unspoken protocol is not to ask others about their vaccination status or their opinions on COVID-19.
“The general etiquette that people have picked up is like, ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell,’” Rider said. “I’m not gonna ask if you’re vaccinated, so I think there’s a lot of self-censorship going on.”
Even if people do have strong opinions, Rider said it’s hard to know when to bring them up — and when to share them.
“I don’t know what I don’t know when it comes to what the correct etiquette is,” Rider said. “It can be really personal.”
While some students don’t share their opinions, others are more vocal, with the hopes of influencing others around them. And it may be working, considering 52.7% of surveyed students said their family and friends influenced their opinions about the pandemic, and 54.1% said family and friends influenced their opinions about vaccines.
No matter students’ opinions, Rider said it’s important to discuss topics like COVID-19 so people can converse and learn from each other — but with this subject, he sees people stray away from the issues at hand.
“It’s definitely good to be considerate about what other people think about topics,” Rider said. “But when that’s at the expense of discussing important topics that might be uncomfortable for people, I don’t think that’s good for any society.”
Social Media Spreading People’s Opinions
With social media having a big role in society today and everyone having access to information with the click of a button, social media could also be playing a part in how people form their opinions about the pandemic.
The survey reveals 58.2% of students polled have shared their opinions about the pandemic on social media, and 62.3% see more political posts regarding COVID-19 now than at the start of the pandemic.
“You have crazy people on both sides who are being influenced,” Rider said. “It depends on who you follow on social media and what you’re seeing.”
In addition, Cox said people seem to like the hype of an opinion instead of just clicking on happy, uplifting stories from their news feed.
“People get fired up and angry and read more and more,” Cox said. “There’s this algorithm, I think, where social media wants you to stay on their site and keep looking so, they want things that will keep you there, which are generally things that make you scared, afraid, angry and divided.”
Rider also said anyone can post their opinions on social media without any type of fact-checking to make sure it is true. Viewers can read the headline and not take the time to distinguish whether the post is fact or opinion.
“There has been genuine stuff that’s just blatantly not true,” Rider said. “Stuff that’s just for fearmongering.”
Royster agreed with Rider in that people’s opinions depend on what type of social media they are on and who they follow, saying people follow particular news sources based on their political alignment.
“I do have a few friends who are leaning toward the right,” Royster said. “And they have a lot of sources that say, like, ‘Oh, COVID is a sham,’ or ‘it’s just the flu’ or ‘just a little cough.'”
Moving Forward and Keeping Relationships Over Opinions
As society continues with COVID-19, Rider said people should learn that everyone has the right to their own perspective, and even if two people disagree over an opinion about the pandemic, it doesn’t mean they need to fight about it.
“People will post inflammatory things on either side,” Rider said. “Because it’s based on their core beliefs, when someone disagrees, they’ll feel like they’re being attacked or like their life is being attacked.”
In addition, Cox said when people prioritize their own opinions over relationships, they aren’t being helpful in bridging the current divide.
“It is high stakes, obviously — decisions about COVID — but realizing that not everyone’s opinion means someone is going to die,” Cox said.
Cox added it isn’t helpful to demonize others about the topic even if they have completely contrasting opinions.
“When someone has a different opinion, whichever [side of the political spectrum] they’re on, consider why they hold that belief and don’t just be like, ‘You’re evil; you’re ignorant,'” Cox said. “Maybe this person has been exposed to information and has a reason for their opinion from their background.”
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Contact Abby Wilt via Twitter (@abby_wilt) or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org