What Was Said
I’m a doctor and an Infectious Diseases Specialist. I’ve been at this for more than 20 years seeing sick patients on a daily basis. I have worked in inner-city hospitals and in the poorest slums of Africa. HIV-AIDS, Hepatitis, TB, SARS, Measles, Shingles, Whooping cough, Diphtheria…there is little I haven’t been exposed to in my profession. And with notable exception of SARS, very little has left me feeling vulnerable, overwhelmed or downright scared.
I am not scared of Covid-19. I am concerned about the implications of a novel infectious agent that has spread the world over and continues to find new footholds in different soil. I am rightly concerned for the welfare of those who are elderly, in frail health or disenfranchised who stand to suffer most, and disproportionately, at the hands of this new scourge. But I am not scared of Covid-19.
What I am scared about is the loss of reason and wave of fear that has induced the masses of society into a spellbinding spiral of panic, stockpiling obscene quantities of anything that could fill a bomb shelter adequately in a post-apocalyptic world. I am scared of the N95 masks that are stolen from hospitals and urgent care clinics where they are actually needed for front line healthcare providers and instead are being donned in airports, malls, and coffee lounges, perpetuating even more fear and suspicion of others. I am scared that our hospitals will be overwhelmed with anyone who thinks they ” probably don’t have it but may as well get checked out no matter what because you just never know…” and those with heart failure, emphysema, pneumonia and strokes will pay the price for overfilled ER waiting rooms with only so many doctors and nurses to assess.
I am scared that travel restrictions will become so far-reaching that weddings will be canceled, graduations missed and family reunions will not materialize. And well, even that big party called the Olympic Games…that could be kiboshed too. Can you even imagine?
I’m scared those same epidemic fears will limit trade, harm partnerships in multiple sectors, business and otherwise and ultimately culminate in a global recession.
But mostly, I’m scared about what message we are telling our kids when faced with a threat. Instead of reason, rationality, open-mindedness and altruism, we are telling them to panic, be fearful, suspicious, reactionary and self-interested.–Read Infectious disease specialist Dr. Abdhu Sharkawy’s editorial in full here.
Rogers Communications Inc., Telus Corp. and Videotron say they are temporarily removing overage fees on internet plans amid an outbreak of the novel coronavirus. – CP
CBC News Network is now available to all subscribers on Bell TV, Shaw, Cogeco and Eastlink.
As of Monday, Rogers and TELUS Optik TV will be making News Network available to all their TV subscribers. – CBC News
– CBC News
Commentator couldn’t hide frustration with the 1987 CBC decision to leave sports in progress — twice. — CBC News archives
Streaming services like Netflix cannot be relied upon to keep investing in British programming, the BBC’s director-general has said, in a stark warning about the consequences of scaling down the corporation. – Michael Savage, The Observer
Like Spotify, Sony Music Entertainment no longer wants to be known just as a music company. – Water & Music, Patreon
There is already a disruption of listening patterns taking place, particularly for any listeners who qualified for radio’s “92%-of-all-adults listen weekly” stat, but only by dint of in-car listening during a commute. Many will now be working from their homes — 32% of which do not currently have an AM/FM radio.
There is the need for information and companionship that radio provides in a crisis. And here is what will matter — what already matters — going forward. – Sean Ross, Ross on Radio
Social media companies are delivering reliable information in the coronavirus crisis. Why can’t they do that all the time? — Ben Smith, NYT
A coronavirus pandemic would test the resilience of a number of institutions: hospitals, transit systems, global supply chains. We can add the mainstream media to that list. Objective news reporting is built on two bedrock principles: report the truth, and don’t pick sides. Trump’s unprecedented commitment to saying what is plainly untrue makes it hard to honor both principles at once. — Gilad Edelman, Wired
March Madness, NBA and MLB losses leave networks scrambling – Jason Lynch, AdWeek
“They’re trying to scare everybody, from meetings, cancel the meetings, close the schools — you know, destroy the country. And that’s okay, as long as we can win the election. But I really believe that if they see that the Trump administration is handling this virus in a professional, competent way, I don’t believe that’s going to hurt us.” — Dan Chaitin, Washington Examiner
Given the rapid spread of coronavirus, the global box office remains in uncharted waters. Last week, most major studio movies that were supposed to debut over the next two months — including Disney’s “Mulan,” Paramount’s “A Quiet Place Part II,” Universal’s “Fast 9” and MGM’s “No Time to Die” — were pulled from release. – Rebecca Rubin, Variety
As the stock markets struggle—so far without much success—to recover from an astoundingly quick rout that has lopped off nearly 30% from the Dow Jones Industrial Average in a month’s time (you may recall that the all-time high on the Dow, 29,551, was February 12), the action on Wall Street is moving quickly to the credit markets, and that’s when things can begin to get really scary. – William D. Cohan, Vanity Fair
Social media both a blessing and a curse during coronavirus pandemic – KitchenerToday.com
We are facing an unprecedented crisis of public understanding. Western digital corporations and social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and Reddit) and their Chinese equivalents (WeChat, Weibo, Tencent and Toutiao) are at the heart of this crisis. These platforms act as facilitators and multipliers of COVID-19-related misinformation.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), noted that urgent measures must now be taken to address the “coronavirus infodemic.”
This infodemic compromises outbreak response and increases public confusion about who and what information sources to trust; generates fear and panic due to unverified rumours and exaggerated claims; and promotes xenophobic and racist forms of digital vigilantism and scapegoating.
Governments, public health authorities and digital corporations need to not only promote digital literacy, but combat ways in which the impact of social media may be spawning an irreversible post-truth age, even after the COVID-19 pandemic dissipates.
Misinformation during outbreaks
Misinformation has been pervasive in other recent large-scale outbreaks. In the 2018 elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo, suspicions were raised when the ruling government cancelled national elections in Ebola-affected areas, eliminating opposition votes.
Rumours are a second form of misinformation. One popular conspiracy theory held that the virus was developed as a means to wage a biological war against China. In China, a rumour spread that bioweapons research in a Wuhan laboratory resulted in the genetic engineering of COVID-19 that was then released. Such rumours may have even jeopardized the working relationship between Western scientists and their Chinese counterparts searching for a COVID-19 vaccine.
Untrue, exaggerated and dubious medical claims and hoaxes are other common forms of misinformation. Various unproven natural and traditional remedies were proffered as cures to both Ebola and COVID-19, such as drinks that contained mint and spices like saffron and turmeric that spread in Iran through Twitter.
Influencing outbreak outcomes
During times of emergency and disaster, urgent questions arise and require immediate response. The problem is that officials don’t consistently provide the accurate information that’s required very quickly.
A post-truth society is one in which subjective opinions and unverified claims rival valid scientific and biomedical facts in their public influence. The need for evidence to support reasoned arguments becomes downplayed, while at the same time, the social norm concerning how and why people should be held accountable for what they say is weakened.
Scientists and other experts ultimately lose social legitimacy and authority in the eyes of the public because what they bring to the table is no longer valued.
When complex emergencies arise, public officials are cautious about making premature pronouncements, instead carefully crafting statements to ensure accuracy and avoid the pitfalls of misinterpretation and exaggeration. Somewhat paradoxically, this careful approach may also contribute to the formation of an information vacuum that rumours and falsehoods are all too ready to fill.
In the digital age, the time needed to analyze, assess and communicate information cannot compete with the instantaneous spreading of misinformation on social media platforms.
The impact of social media misinformation may be even more pronounced because of confirmation bias, the tendency to accept statements that reinforce our established views and to downplay statements that counter these views.
Misinformation & xenophobia
Racist content spread through social media may reinforce already pre-existing biases and prejudices. Xenophobic reactions that emerged during the 2003 SARS outbreaks in Toronto, amongst other cities, are being repeated during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
What’s different now is how easily social media can fuel this behaviour. A particularly poignant illustration is a viral WeChat rumour that a particular Chinese restaurant in Canada employed someone with COVID-19 and that health officials had closed the restaurant. The restaurant lost 80 per cent of its revenue.
Social media also facilitates a form of prejudiced collective organizing that, similar to crowdsourcing, rapidly enlists a large number of people, yet does so on the basis of questionable claims and beliefs. An online petition compiled by 8,000 people north of Toronto demanded that the school board ban students whose family members had recently travelled to China from attending school.
The information vacuum
During the early stages of the 2003 SARS outbreak in China, people shared information about the outbreak through simple text messaging. Despite efforts by the government to not share information about the outbreak with the WHO, information about “atypical pneumonia” circulated widely.
With COVID-19, the Chinese state’s censorship of and control over online content created an information vacuum. Despite this, citizens have used social media to express veiled criticism of government mismanagement and lack of government accountability.
During the early stages of the outbreak, before the Chinese government was releasing any information, ophthalmologist Li Wenliang — a whistleblower for COVID-19 — posted messages on the spread of a SARS-like illness. As screenshots of his posts went viral, he was disciplined by local police for promoting “untrue speech.” Li died of complications from the virus on Feb. 7, 2020.
News of his death dominated Chinese social media, with a flurry of messages expressing grief as well as anger directed at the government. “Dr. Li Wenliang passed away” became the top search record on Weibo. State censors intervened to remove posts on Li’s death, but public outrage led to increased demands for free speech and greater information transparency from the government.
By contrast, as the outbreak intensifies, social media has taken on new and increased importance with the large-scale implementation of social distancing, quarantine measures and lockdowns of complete cities. Social media platforms have become a way to enable homebound people survive isolation and seek help, co-ordinate donations, entertain and socialize with each other.
The frequency of disease outbreaks like the one we’re currently witnessing will increase, given the ways in which connections between human beings and nature continue to intensify.
Pandemics will require co-ordinated global response strategies. Digital corporations and social media platforms can and must be at the heart of these strategies, since their responses and willingness to collaborate with governments and public health officials will determine whether social media is viewed as a beneficial or pathological vector of pandemic response.
At present, it’s imperative to develop policies and mechanisms that address the digital creation and spread of misinformation about disease outbreaks. To do this will require that biomedical knowledge about pandemics be supplemented by expertise about their social, political and cultural underpinnings.
Without that understanding, efforts to contain COVID-19 will be hindered by “spreading unnecessary panic and confusion, and driving division, when solidarity and collaboration are key to saving lives and ending the health crisis.”
S. Harris Ali, Professor, Sociology, York University, Canada and Fuyuki Kurasawa, York Research Chair in Global Digital Citizenship, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, York University, Canada
Dr. Bonnie Henry fan clubs pop up on social media – Burnaby Now
You may not have heard of her before this pandemic, but you definitely know her now.
Dr. Bonnie Henry is the provincial health officer who has been leading the fight against COVID-19 pandemic in BC. She has been delivering the sombre statistics during daily updates on the virus spread in the province, as well as providing instructions and answers on how to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
She has accumulated a cult following of fans who are very happy to voice their appreciation for Henry’s work.
There are now Dr. Bonnie Henry Fan Clubs that have popped up on Facebook and Twitter, that allow users to post and share how much they appreciate Dr. Henry and all of her work. The fan club Twitter account mostly posts updates when Henry is about to speak, or retweets posts from the public on their various thoughts about the health officer.
The Facebook group seems to be a little more on the wild side, pondering everything from Dr. Henry’s age to her relationship status. But nevertheless, every post in the group is steadfastly behind the provincial health officer, and everything she has done to keep the public informed.
Social media a blessing and a curse during time of crisis: B.C. communication expert – Campbell River Mirror
Amidst time of crisis, people around the world are in a hurry to find accurate information, but sometimes it’s not always there.
In times like these before technology, people around the would flood to a trusted news source to get the latest information. Now, even legacy news sources, mass media institutions that predominated the Information Age, are using social media to reach their readers.
A B.C. expert in communications is warning the public to check their sources and ensure what they’re reading is accurate, to help reduce the spread of misinformation.
“It’s a blessing and a curse,” said professor and director of Simon Fraser University’s School of Communication, Peter Chow-White, in an interview March 18.
“It’s a (curse) because on the one hand there’s a lot of information out there, it’s hard to know – you have to sort of sift through a lot of it to figure out what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s real and what’s not.
“The blessing of social media is that the information gets delivered very quickly to our home, so we can react much faster than we normally would around these sorts of things.
Additionally, in order to navigate through crisis, he says the public needs to practice being information and media literate.
“It’s huge on the individual these days,” explained Chow-White.
“This is sort of a place where legacy news comes back into play and becomes more important than ever.”
With thousands of news sources and websites reporting on the pandemic, and some reporting on a crisis for the first time, the professor says the accuracy of information reaching people’s news feeds can be lost.
“It’s just not their traditional domain,” he said.
Social contagion, he explained, operates very similarly to viral contagion; there is a network effect, and social media amplifies this.
“It amplifies that (misinformation) and creates fear and panic in people’s minds without giving them the oportunity and the information to understand the context; how to mitiage that fear itself.
“In moments of crisis, fear is very real and palpable.”
Earlier this month, Black Press Media reported that an Interior Health medical officer condemed an article published by an Okanagan media outlet. The article included a “projected death” calculation that upwards of 5,800 people in the Okanagan could die from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The media outlet since issued a public apology.
Chow-White says since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, some information hasn’t been properly communicated.
“It would have been good to have messaging around – you don’t need a ton of toilet paper, and you don’t need it for two years. That’s a good case of how information gets delivered improperly and the narrative takes over instead of the science.”
However he added, there are many benefits to society tackling a crisis during the Information Age, thanks in part to social media.
“Social media becomes critical in communication. People need to be able to go to Twitter and have the algorithms push the information that is most important and that is the most trustworthy,” said Chow-White.
“Even though people are managing their own feeds, Twitter and Facebook have a social responsibility in these moments as well.”
Social media companies have had to act quick in their response to misinformation but also access to facts since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic.
For Facebook, that includes banning ads that capitalize on fears, putting more funds into fact-checking resources to comb out the false claims about treatments, and removing all non-official COVID-19 accounts from Facebook and Instagram.
Twitter has pledged to relaunch its profile verification program to help identify authoritative voices in its attempt to ensure facts are being seen by users first and foremost.
Even Snapchat, which is used mainly by younger demographics, has added a dedicated section on its app for COVID-19 news.
Not a B.C. conversation, but a global one
Chow-White furthered that the current COVID-19 situation isn’t a B.C. conversation; it’s a global conversation which works at multiple levels. These include local, national and international levels.
Over the last month, several events have reinforced why Chow-White believes the internet is an uneven approach to following information by leadership, in the context of global information.
Referencing the topic of flattening the curve, moving from a mitigation strategy to a containment strategy, he says this wasn’t done particularly well in Canada, and especially B.C.
“An example of that is – the Ministry of Education on Friday (March 13) announced that there’s no reason to close schools – and it’s good to keep them open… completely contradicting what the rest of the world is doing.
“Ninety-six hours (later), they reverse into a 180.”
B.C. has been hosting afternoon news briefings on Monday to Friday and at noon on Saturday – streamed by all TV stations but also broadcasted live on the government’s social media channels. These briefings include a daily case count, any provincial orders delivered by B.C.’s top doctor, Dr. Bonnie Henry, and a question-and-answer portion for reporters.
Such provincial orders have included a ban on large gatherings – initially for events with more than 250 attendees but which has since been lowered to 50 guests – shutting down bars an dnightclubs and banning dine-in guests at restaurants.
“We are dealing today with things happening 10 to 14 days ago. The things we do now are going to help us 10 days, 14 days from now,” Henry continues.
— Ashley WASH-YOUR-HANDS-wani (@ashwadhwani) March 18, 2020
But the ban on gatherings has proven just how difficult it is to get messaging quickly to thousands of provincial citizens. Days after Henry announced the order, people were still spotted on social media hosting weddings and other events.
Henry has spent much of her daily briefings reminding the public that the ban may be on gatherings of more than 50, but that doesn’t mean that 45 attendees or even 20 or 10 makes anyone less at-risk of contracting the virus.
In fact, she has since urged people to stay indoors and if they go outside only go with the people you live with and in grous of no more than one or two – and most importantly, stay six feet apart.
The province unveiled this week that under the current state of emergency, bylaw officers are now being enabled to enforce government restrictions.
On Friday, March 27, Henry unveiled what she called ‘cautious optimism’ that the various contact restrictions had nearly halved the potential transmission.
That report sparked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to remind the public that while “an excellent sign,” the news offered even more of a reason for people to continue listening to advice of health officials.
“If we are seeing a reduction in the spikes, then that shows it is working but that means we need to continue what we are doing,” he said.
Unevennes has since evened out, says expert
Canada, Chow-White explained, is among the third wave of areas hit, following Asia and Italy. Currently, the U.S. is dealing with the most cases in the world right now, as China has started to see a drastic reprieve.
Iran, he said, has been one of the hardest hit areas.
Last week pictures surfaced online of football-field sized mass graves, taken from space.
“If that was a first-world country, then we’d be a lot more panicked. But we tend to ignore these sorts of things in the global north, unfortunately. Not everybody mind you, but a lot of people,” he said.
“If there was some sort of connection between that and us, a little more force through the last week, we wouldn’t have people walking around outside right now, casually wondering why they can’t go out for St. Patty’s Day.
“I’m not trying to make light of it, I’m just trying to illustrate a lag and an unevenness.”
Thankfully, he said, that unevenness had since evened out. He says people are getting it, and they’re staying home.
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