A scientific advisory committee in Britain has expressed “regret” in a newly released book which outlines the group’s use of “dystopian” fear tactics to influence public behavior following the outbreak of COVID-19.
The Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behavior, or SPI-B for short, is a sub-committee of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) that advised SAGE on the role of psychology in nudging the British public into complying with government lockdown measures. SAGE, in turn, advises government ministers, wresting far-reaching influence on public policy.
On the back of SPI-B advice, SAGE issued guidance to the U.K. government, as they locked down the country last March, advising that they would need to couple their actions with a targeted fear campaign to ramp up the “perceived level of personal threat” from the virus. This would help the government to control “a substantial number of people” who were thought to “not feel sufficiently personally threatened,” according to SPI-B.
Journalist and author Laura Dodsworth, in her latest publication A State of Fear, documents “how the U.K. government weaponised fear during the COVID-19 pandemic.” The book features the testimony of SPI-B members who admit that the tactics used by the group were tantamount to “totalitarianism.”
“Fear is the most powerful emotion,” Dodsworth’s website states. “Hardwired into humans, fear is … one of the most powerful tools in the behavioural psychology toolbox and it has been used to manipulate and control people during the pandemic.”
An unnamed SPI-B member explained to Dodsworth that “[i]n March  the Government was very worried about compliance, and they thought people wouldn’t want to be locked down. There were discussions about fear being needed to encourage compliance, and decisions were made about how to ramp up the fear.”
“The use of fear has definitely been ethically questionable,” the source continued. “It’s been like a weird experiment. Ultimately, it backfired because people became too scared. The way we have used fear is dystopian.”
SPI-B psychologist Gavin Morgan told Dodsworth that “using fear as a means of control is not ethical. Using fear smacks of totalitarianism. It’s not an ethical stance for any modern government.” Morgan related that, in spite of his normally optimistic outlook on life, seeing the government implement fear tactics to control the population “has given me a more pessimistic view of people.”