The Structural Problem COVID-19 Revealed that Nobody is Talking About
For the almost six months past, the world has been living through the nightmare of the coronavirus pandemic. This is news to nobody. Around the world, in so-called free democracies, authoritarian countries, in small towns, big cities, and likely in isolated communities we don’t know about, everybody knows that COVID-19 is a problem.
However, there is intense disagreement about what comes next: why the pandemic arose, what we are to do, who is to blame, or even if it is over yet. Now more than ever, some of us are being alerted to the enormous slew of misinformation surrounding the virus that the WHO thought was important enough to classify as an “infodemic” on par with the actual virus. I can speak to the U.S. side of the equation because it is the one I’m most acquainted with. Some think that the virus is a Chinese or Democrat hoax designed to make Trump look bad. Others think that it was caused by 5G cell towers. Some say we shouldn’t wear masks because they make it easier to catch the virus, or keep more of it on your face. People who were forced to accept its existence now say it’s over. More still say that Bill Gates is planning to conduct surveillance on us all by injecting us with tiny machines through a vaccination program.
The sheer volume and creativity of these narratives is staggering, and the effects are tragic. Misinformation has been systematically picked up and repeated by right-wing media companies like Fox and Breitbart to the degree that there now exist notable partisan divides in COVID-related beliefs. In June, PEW Research reported that in their study sample, 29% of Republicans and independents leaning-Republican always wore masks, 23% most of the time, 25% some of the time, 14% rarely, and 9% never. Compare this to 63%, 23%, 10%, 0% and 0% of Democrats and independents leaning-Democrat on the same measures, respectively. Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham have seemed to have made it their personal crusade to cast doubt on mask-wearing. In a report from later in July, PEW noted that 34% of Republicans and lean-Republicans believed that the coronavirus outbreak was planned by powerful people, as compared to 18% of Democrats and lean-Democrats — which is a sad bar for comparison.