16 Mar Coronavirus or Mediavirus?
Here is a quick snapshot of the Australian economy right now as the uncertainty of COVID-19 continues – cities are on the brink of lockdown, businesses are being forced to shut up shop and thousands of jobs hang in the balance until indefinitely. With Australia recently announcing self isolation for anyone entering the country and practicing social distancing, COVID-19 will directly or indirectly influence our lives for many months to come.
The ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has received extensive media attention since the outbreak occurred in January of 2020. The current pandemic has been much more prominent in the media coverage than recent outbreaks, including Ebola and SARS. As of March 9 2020, the name Coronavirus has been mentioned globally in the media 1.1 billion times.
The media coverage that has unfolded alongside COVID-19 has set us up for an interesting debate. Should the media be policed when reporting on matters of this nature? And would this level of mass hysteria been reached if there was some level of quality control in place?
Fear as the narrative of the Coronavirus Pandemic
Fear has played a particularly big role in the portrayal of the COVID-19. A lot of these media stories use frightening language such as ‘killer virus’ or ‘deadly disease’ to invoke fear in us as humans and ultimately, keep us reading.
This prominence of fear as a narrative through the media suggests that much of the coverage of the pandemic is more an attempt to lobby public fear, rather than inform us of what is actually happening with the virus.
Fear can make us panic, it can make us do things we wouldn’t usually do to make matters worse, like spreading rumours, hoarding toilet paper, or blaming particular groups. Fear is an emotion that we all experience, and like any emotion it can be shared between a social group, an office building, or even a country. And like other emotions, fear spreads quickly.
In times of crisis, we are our own worst enemy. It is human nature to give more attention to the negative events than the positive ones. It is called negativity bias, as has been long observed by psychologists. If you want to learn more about the inner workings of the human brain and why we are flawed in this way, check it out here.
It is easy to succumb to the fear of the crowds, when everywhere you look there is bad news. The hard part when faced with all of this, is to keep our head, when everyone around us is going into panic mode.
The Media make money from lobbying the public fear of the Coronavirus
We need to remember that the media companies are in the business of making money too and sometimes they will go to the lowest common denominator in order to drive people to consume their content.
Media competition means that journalists and editors have incentives to use emotionally powerful visuals and story lines to gain and maintain ever-shrinking news audiences.
Media companies sell available advertising space to corporations for profit. The bigger the headline, the more clicks onto their material, the more eyes on advertisement means the more money in their pocket.
Social media companies are starting to increase their vigilance about removing their coronavirus conspiracies, particular items that are said to make the wearer immune and stop any corresponding disinformation from spreading.
All of this media saturation can work in two ways. We can either have a false sense of security on the severity of the crisis, or we have intense paranoia which is detrimental to not only our personal health but the structures of society (toilet paper crisis). Yes, being prepared for a quarantine is smart, but overbuying certain items is not. Toilet paper will not protect you from COVID -19, it will only cause a shortage in supply which will stop other people from getting what they need.
The very outlets that were designed to inform us, have only added anxiety, speculation and fear to the outbreak which is COVID-19.
Coronavirus or Mediavirus - Final Thoughts
When things are looking bleak it is important to keep your head and not be swayed by the crowd.
Limit your exposure to news outlets because media fatigue is real. Instead, find information on COVID-19 from reliable sources which I have listed here:
CDC – https://www.cdc.gov/
NIH – https://www.nih.gov/
World Health Organisation – https://www.who.int/
Australian Government Department of Health – https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov
This article was not produced to undervalue the danger of the situation presented by COVID-19. Many people are asymptomatic, therefore spreading the virus without even knowing. We must protect those who are at risk and are vulnerable to the virus by washing our hands, practicing safe coughing and sneezing habits, keeping a safe distance from others, self isolating ourselves should we begin to feel ill and seeking medical attention should symptoms persist. We recommend sourcing your updates from WHO (World Health Organisation) for accurate and timely updates.