Recently in one of my classes, my professor took an impromptu poll of the class about what they thought was the most pressing issue in the news. Perhaps unsurprisingly, over half of the class said the coronavirus. While that’s obviously an incredibly small group of people she polled and one that isn’t exactly representative of the wider population to boot, I do still think it stands: the coronavirus has captured the world’s attention over the last few weeks.
But why is it so attention grabbing? To me it seems like it’s a combination of two major things: media sensationalism and racism.
Western media has had a field day with the coronavirus. I’ve been constantly getting breaking news alerts on my phone about a new case here or a first confirmed case there. It’s all just to generate the most attention grabbing headlines, regardless of the facts (as at least in a few of the cases I’ve gone to read the story, just for the ‘expected case’ to be a false alarm, but of course that doesn’t get a breaking news alert now does it).
The obvious knock on effect of these alerts is that they’ve created a heightened sense of anxiety regarding the virus, as my class’ 200-person straw poll seemed to suggest. Regardless of the facts (namely, that there are only about 30 confirmed cases in North America and all are currently being quarantined), the hysteria has grabbed hold, thanks to what I would call reckless fear mongering on the part of the media.
For some, the media’s portrayal of the situation, combined with conspiracy theories spread through social media, has seemingly given the public a pass to be hostile to people they see whom they presume to be Asian.
The media can only be blamed for so much though, primarily in their failure to de-escalate the situation. However, people who are harassing Asian people and purposefully ostracizing them in public because of their race didn’t just learn that overnight. The media simply has given a lot of people a pass to overreact and to let out some of their regular racist insecurities.
None of this is excusable. The media, most notably social media, need to be held to account. The fact that Facebook is unable (or uninterested) in policing false and dangerous content on their site rears its ugly head once again, offering another perfect example for why the site needs greater governmental oversight.
Another culprit may be social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram. Some of the content out there about the virus (regardless of the comedic intent) is dangerous, especially for people who don’t bother to do any research. This, combined with the news alerts fear mongering about every potential case that is reported, makes for a dangerous combination.
The truth about the coronavirus is simple: it causes a respiratory infection that is quite contagious but is usually mild. While there is no vaccine for it currently, its death rate currently sits at about two per cent. To compare, influenza viruses have a combined death rate of nine to 13 per cent worldwide according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
It poses the largest risk to those with existing respiratory issues, as well as young children and the elderly. While there have been over 34,000 confirmed cases, currently there are approximately 6,000 in critical condition while over 2,000 people have fully recovered. It’s important to note that these statistics are changing daily and likely aren’t entirely accurate, given the emphasis on those at risk and in critical condition over those with mild cases.
The facts lay out the situation quite clearly, there is very little to worry about. Ignoring the media fear mongering, due to our geographic isolation and all of the safeguards and preventative measures in place, the chances of contracting the disease in Canada are slim to none, with the chance of actually dying from the virus being even smaller.
Additionally, we should all attempt to stop the spread of false information wherever we can. There’s nothing wrong with jokes, so long as they don’t spread misinformation or are purposefully derogatory or racist.
Speaking of racist, if you or anyone you know is being awkward or weird around Asian people, please stop. This really just shows one of three things: either you’re stupid and misinformed, you’re racist and want an excuse to be racist or both.
Moving forward let’s all try to be a bit more vigilant and let’s hope that one day the media won’t blatantly fear monger in the hopes of getting more clicks, for our collective sanity.