If you have ever engaged with a piece of entertainment set during any historical period involving severe social events such as war or sickness, complete with emotionally charged scenes of tragedy and noble performances of ethics, you may have caught yourself imagining how you would have behaved in such circumstances. In the wake of the past several months of coronavirus news, I have learned a tougher lesson about how information functions under such circumstances than I could have ever picked up in a classroom. Before I get into it, here is the information that I wish was being passed around surrounding maintaining health in this pandemic (when an epidemic becomes global):
- Wash your hands for twenty seconds
- Sing two iterations of the Happy Birthday song
- OR until ‘Ra-ra-ah-ah-ah’ in Lady Gaga’s ‘Bad Romance’
- OR until ‘The beaten, and the…’ in My Chemical Romance’s ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’
- Do not touch your face (mouth, hands, eyes)
- Sneeze into your elbow
- Wipe down commonly touched surfaces (especially your smartphone)
- Wear a mask only if you yourself are sick
- Stay home if you are sick
- Do not hoard masks – shortages impacting those who are actually sick and health workers will spread the virus like nothing else
- See here for more.
Here is the information I have heard being passed around instead, a consequence of the global catastrophe of misinformation propagated by myriad means and platforms. These largely stem from work experiences in education facilities where I am surrounded by students ranging in age from K-12 to college, librarians, educators, and managers. My area of the United States has an extremely positive reputation regarding education, technological advancement, wealth, diversity, and general “progressiveness”. It also has 74 cases of coronavirus and counting.
- Coronavirus is a method of population control for old people, so there is nothing for young people like us to worry about (this segued to introducing eugenics as a positive concept)
- Coronavirus is just a hoax/hysteria/etc put on so places like Costco can do more business
- Coronavirus showed up in a US city in the middle of a Chinese market (a child recounting what their mother had told them, all the while wiping their hands all over their mouth and face)
- Xenophobia is a natural reaction to the coronavirus (Asmelash, 2020)
Now, ugly as this is, the worst part is all the information treated as ‘common sense’ that set the stage. I know both managers of Bay Area teaching centers and Silicon Valley software engineers who would not be considered anti-vaccination and, yet, they both scoff at the idea of getting a yearly flu shot. The US pandemic response team, which also helped countries such as China in resisting the propagation of epidemics, was fired in 2018 in order to save money (Palma, 2020). UC Berkeley, the vaunted liberal and ethnically diverse gold mine of many a starry-eyed high school senior and college sophomore looking to transfer, proclaimed that bigotry was the way to go when an entire community is at risk (Asmelash, 2020). All throughout is a systematic disregard for scientific concepts such as herd immunity and a shrugging dismissal when it comes to the idea that accepting the death of vulnerable members of our community as inevitable is not the best policy. From a scientific standpoint, ‘survival of the fittest’ only happens when genetic variability is maintained, which is why any sort of eugenics ultimately weakens the human species. From an ethical one, do you really want to think, even passively, like a Nazi (Berenbaum, n.d.)?
What I take from all this is that, as an information professional, the relationship I have with information is that of responsibility. Heaven knows, in the midst of working two jobs and going to school full time, I barely have the inclination, let alone the physical or emotional energy, to engage with such concerns. However, both those jobs involve the interaction with significant numbers of young people in a capacity where they look to me as a keeper of knowledge. What I have learned during the instances where I have actively corrected misinformation that ranged from silly to downright dangerous is, when it comes to the field of information and library science, you are not going to be paid more for potentially saving someone’s life. Believe it or not, thinking that you should take precautionary measures for the sake of someone in your community who is old/poor/sick/immunocompromised is not an opinionated political position.
In other words, have you ever wondered how you would act in an environment where ‘common sense’ promotes the sacrifice of some sectors of society in order to save the ‘fit and able?’ Now is your chance.
Asmelash, L. (2020, February 1). UC Berkley faces backlash after stating ‘xenophobia’ is ‘common’ or ‘normal’ reaction to coronavirus. Retrieved March 8, 2020, from https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/01/us/uc-berkeley-coronavirus-xenophobia-trnd/index.html
Berenbaum, M. (n.d.). T4 program. Retrieved March 8, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/event/T4-Program
Novel Coronavirus. (n.d.). Retrieved March 8, 2020, from https://www.sccgov.org/sites/phd/DiseaseInformation/novel-coronavirus/Pages/home.aspx
Palma, B. (2020, February 28). Did Trump fire the US pandemic response team? Retrieved March 8, 2020, from https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/trump-fire-pandemic-team/