Written by Joseph Carrick
The coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan, China a few weeks ago, and China, and by extension the world, is beginning to feel both a cultural and economic impact. Just this week, the US instituted a mandatory quarantine as well as travel bans for those foreign nations travelling from China to the US. The US is not the only nation to do this; it is estimated that about 30% of travel has dropped since the start of the Lunar Year according to the Chinese Ministry of Transportation. There are additional fears of shortages and medical supplies as the virus spreads, but what is the role social media is playing in this affair.
It is important to understand just how dangerous the virus actually is, as speculation has led to a flurry of sensationalist panic and fear of the disease quickly circumnavigating the globe to spreading all across the US. In fact, there were several rumors of the virus existing in Roanoke specifically, which were thankfully quelled by Campus Safety via email; although, this probably wasn’t necessary considering opening up a news tab will tell you that cases in the US have been located in western states, Chicago, and Massachusetts.
The usual contenders are responsible for rumors of the virus spreading all across the US: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and clickbait new sites that care more for internet traffic (and thereby ad revenue) than actual journalistic integrity. The many, many memes that cover the coronavirus range from this sensationalist sentiment to vague racist undertones to the obvious Corona vs. Bud Light reference. Some may remember the Ebola outbreak that happened a few years ago, and this pattern looks very familiar: social media drums up hype, people panic and fret over a basically nonexistent problem, governments take precautions to limit the spread, people regard this as the world ending, and memes explode all over the internet, only perpetuating the situation.
The last thing anyone needs is mass hysteria, and thankfully that has not yet occurred. When regarding the virus as it continues to spread, because it more than likely will (at least locally in China and the surrounding region), please be aware of where you’re actually getting updates on the disease. If you’re relying only on social media for updates, take a moment to reflect on the fact that you know better than this, and check out a few news sources to confirm apparent sightings of the disease.