Truth and trust in the time of COVID-19

By Francesco Morace, President of Future Concept Lab

Today, more than ever before, the influence exerted on consumers is coming head to head with the harsh, even tragic force of reality. When the speed of truth is measured every day with the geometric progression of dramatic data (numbers of people infected and dead), the reality of the facts prevails over manipulative opinions. We thus witness a rare ‘information ecology’, demonstrating the power of reality and rebelling against the fake: one-sided and biased interpretations are swept away by the evidence. Just like in war. It becomes difficult to manipulate consciousness, where the effects become visible on a daily basis.

This explains the disorientation that the entire media and political system experienced during the first few weeks of the COVID-19 crisis, generating opinions and information that were resoundingly contradicted the very next day. You only have to re-read the headlines from that disjointed time, contradicting themselves even after just a few hours. Only by developing a new awareness will we be able to strengthen the social fabric and its immune system, which is not only biological, but also cultural and relational: true information will once again take centre stage.

When we talk about communication, we often believe that we are in control and that everything depends on us; on our ability to tell a story, to sell and to gratify. We expect it, in part due to the emergence of technological innovations or algorithms often at the service of hired storytelling. The outbreak of the infection has changed this perception overnight. We are still very fragile, and nature can still defeat us if it wants to, imposing its storydoing i.e. the story of the facts.

The first consequence is panic, which cannot last too long. The assault on the supermarkets in the first few days gradually gave way to a new awareness and a sense of civic responsibility which we only demonstrated after the war. At the start of the outbreak, it seemed that Italy had lost its attractive value, becoming a place to avoid. It then began to affect other places, and everything found a new dramatic balance. The lesson is clear: the truth of the facts exists, beyond our convictions. If we do not take this truth seriously, the whole system of communication (including advertising) risks sinking.

It will therefore be necessary to maintain the chain of trust: a rusty chain that needs to be restored, respecting the speed of truth, to which we are no longer accustomed. The counterbalance in this case is marked by the power of the truth. For the first time, this came faster than the fake news, which was almost immediately contradicted by reality. Companies, agencies and organisations will have to take this into account in the future, in order to reach the new generations that prove to be prudent and vaccinated, pragmatic and enlightened, able to distinguish reality from opinion.