“Look After Each Other”– Ethical Concerns in the Use of Communicative Appeals to Solidarity in the Face of a Pandemic

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During the recent COVID-19 pandemic international organizations and national and local governments employed appeals to solidarity or “we-messages” for the purpose of encouraging the public to adopt mitigation measures and to help more vulnerable others. Since appeals to solidarity inherently aim to influence people’s views and practices, they raise ethical concerns similar to concerns associated with health communication persuasive campaigns (e.g. respect for autonomy, personal responsibility, stigmatization) and concerns more specifically associated with appeals to solidarity (e.g. divisiveness). The first part of the paper introduces a conceptual distinction between two types of approaches to solidarity according to an instrumental or moral emphasis. Appeals to solidarity according to this distinction are illustrated with examples from the COVID-19 pandemic. The second part summarizes normative justifications and advantages for employing appeals to solidarity. The third part presents ethical concerns associated with appealing to solidarity in the time of a pandemic. Drawing on these concerns, the final part presents propositions for normative conditions for employing solidarity appeals in a time of a pandemic and notes the importance of research needed to identify additional ethical concerns and conceptions of solidarity in multicultural societies. It concludes with noting the importance of employing appeals to solidarity that go beyond mitigating the pandemic and of conducting a critical discourse on the mandate of the state to make “top-down” moral demands.

Original languageEnglish
JournalHealth Communication
StateAccepted/In press - 2022


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