The Spread of a Pandemic Through Social Media and Memes

By:  |  Category: Blog Wednesday, May 6th, 2020  |  No Comments

Laugher is truly the best medicine.

During a global crisis where healthy citizens of almost every country are asked to stay indoors and avoid contact with others, there will inevitably be a turn toward technology to remain in touch, and a rapid deployment of material online to help people cope, but also to frighten the general public. That’s exactly what we’ve seen.

Vicky Chuqiao Yang, a post-doctoral researcher at the Santa Fe Institute has watched the coronavirus pandemic unfold twice, once through her parents in her hometown of Wuhan, China and again here in the US.

Initial reports were censored and information was unreliable during the beginning of the spread throughout Wuhan, Yang remembers “there were all these internet campaigns about how many people there are, untested, who have symptoms, who are obviously suffering; some people are dying; they [were] not counted in the official statistics.”

Through shared stories online by celebrities, influencers, and average citizens, the outcry in help lead to a change in policy as “officials in Hubei province began converting stadiums and convention centers into temporary treatment centers to contain infected individuals and keep them from circulating in the population at large.”

As a researcher, Yang argues that anecdotes like this show a complicated spread of COVID-19, moving through swarms of societies not only on infected surfaces but through the media and online, “which can change human behavior and the trajectory of the epidemic.”

In January, a “frantic campaign swept across China,” for people to cancel their travel plans for the Chinese New Year. Yang gives us more detail on that campaign, “There were even arts and media campaigns that resembled Communist propaganda that the older generations might buy into more,” she explains.

A similar pattern can be seen in the US and across European Nations as the world has responded to COVID-19.

Vermont Complex Systems Center’s Laurent Hébert-Dufresne says, “How people are talking about the disease influences how it’s going to spread.” And Models used to predict and track the outcome, don’t account for this.

The spread is as “viral” and complex as how a meme or piece of information or misinformation circulates the internet, and escalates reactions to fear or the opposite, exasperation, resulting in riots to re-open the global economy.

Northeastern University’s Professor Scarpino argues that social contagions (information spread) can bias data sets and influence how it appears a disease is spreading. Seeing as we’re all at home social-distancing, that information spread is done online.

News, cures, memes, and rumors affect who will get themselves tested, who will defy social-distancing rules, and ultimately affect who will be infected with the disease, changing its trajectory.

On another note, if you need assistance with your cybersecurity needs please contact DarkHound at [email protected]

-Emmy Seigler

Source: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/technology/how-memes-and-social-media-shape-the-spread-of-coronavirus/ar-BB13gwZt

Image Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/QK1OhZmopBo

Samantha Keller
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