I happen to personally know several people who have been affected by coronavirus. To be more precise, they have felt the impact of the panic about the disease. (No names, but you know who you are!). One couple just arrived from a trip to China, and they have been forced to stay in a hotel for two weeks (hello Netflix). Another couple arrived from Hong Kong more than a week ago, and they decided to self-quarantine themselves on a road trip (that they were planning to do anyway). This Monday, my mom went to Italy (an adventure she had planned a while back) to find out that their famous opera house is closed and tourists cannot visit museums. Sad face.
Of course, coronavirus is real and some people did die. But the panic about it seems to be artificial. Reasonable precautions have given way to a shitstorm of fear and loathing.
By fear I mean the claims that the new pandemic is upon us. Some digging through online resources shows that coronavirus (in terms of people who got sick and those who actually died) is far from the proper pandemic scale. This fear does not seem warranted. But the current alternative is not necessarily better. Those who are not afraid too often turn to loathing - blaming and even hating those who say that coronavirus is a problem.
Let us step back and see what is going on here. People are biased (hey, we all are). People have a biological need to communicate with each other, which includes looking for information and sharing it (without necessarily checking one's biases in the process). People's relationships are characterized by the constant struggle for power. Looking for ways to make profit is a big part of this struggle. In the modern world, one can make profit by sharing information in certain ways (e.g., creating clickbait stories). On top of that, we are often unaware of some or all aspects of this dynamics.
1) Some people think that it's fine or necessary to spread stories that end up feeding into the panic.
2) Other people react to these stories and share them further.
3) This confirms the assumptions of (a) people who are afraid and (b) people for whom creating/spreading stories is a business.
And the vicious cycle continues, slowly taking on tornado proportions.
My two cents:
1) Let's be aware of how our biases work. Confirmation bias is a big one, of course.
2) Let's be aware of how online social networks work. For example, it is useful to remember that we create and thrive in our filter bubbles where biases reign supreme.
3) Let's be aware of how business models of mediated communication work. More fear and talks about an issue lead to more news stories from serious media outlets, and more clickbait stories from less reliable media outlets. So seeing more stories does not mean being in bigger danger of contracting a disease. It just means that the topic is a hot one right now.
4) This is an important one. Let's not be mad at each other for being afraid, being biased or doing what our business models dictate. All these things are very understandable.
5) At the same time, let's be responsible and remember that when people communicate, they influence each other. When WE communicate, we influence each other. You are I. All of us. That's true whether you are a journalist, a professional blogger, an internet junkie, or an occasional social media user.
6) Let's breathe in, breath out, and calm down. Peace.
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