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Why viral content about coronavirus is more dangerous than the coronavirus itself

Here is why all bloggers create viral content about coronavirus and what can be the consequence


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Jane Dolskaya

3 years ago | 7 min read

On Wednesday, 11 of March, WHO has officially announced coronavirus COVID-19 to be pandemic. And the whole world has dived into fear.

Actually, the world started to be afraid a while before the pandemic was declared. And this happened because of viral content created by bloggers and social media activists.

I am not going to talk about the medical part of the pandemic in this post. You can find all the information collected on new coronavirus and COVID-19 disease, caused by it, on the WHO site here.

And here are the WHO recommendations on what you can do to protect yourself.

The only thing I want to mention is that coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause respiratory infections ranging from usual cold to more severe illnesses. And we have already faced the epidemic of Severe acute respiratory syndrome and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (both caused by coronavirus).

Also, we encountered the 2009 H1N1 Pandemic that lasted for the whole year.

Do you remember that?

Well, look, we’re still alive.

Yes, according to the online map, coronavirus is impressive and dangerous. We have to be very careful, and all the safety measures are reasonable. But not panic caused by infodemia.

We constantly live in a world full of dangerous diseases.

In 2018, there were more than 140 000 measles deaths globally. Not quite impressive?

Approximately 37.9 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2018. Still, no?

Finally, each year, more than 200 million new cases of malaria disease are reported, 1–3 million of the sick people die and now it is still on the rise in some countries.

So, why we don’t write about the problems that exist for a long time and still don’t have solutions? Why we’re all talking about COVID-19 non-stop as if we lived in a world where no diseases have existed before and it was the first one in history?

The reason is the same as for the fact that many people use cars to get to work every day, but are afraid of traveling by plane, though it’s the safest way to travel. That’s because media create hype around every plane crash, and nevertheless, they are very rare, we are still afraid because we remember vivid memories regarding the crashes we had read about.

People are also afraid to travel to beaches near which sharks were noticed, though sharks eat fish and usually don’t attack people. Statistically, a man can much more likely be killed with champagne cork or a tomato.

News reports routinely cover rare, but dramatic deaths, like an epidemic more heavily than they do more frequent but less dramatic deaths from ordinary diseases like measles that we are used to. That’s why the illusion occurs that COVID-19 is the most awful epidemic that ever happened.

I believe that the massive information company around the current coronavirus epidemic is a great demonstration of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon or frequency illusion in the globalization era.

This cognitive bias grew out of a letter to the St. Paul Pioneer Press by its reader Gigetto on Lincoln. This man claimed to have discussed the German Baader-Meinhof Gang with a friend, who then called back after a few days and (Oh, Gosh!) reported seeing a segment on the Gang on the news.

Our psychic makes us think that if we encountered an event or a fact twice within a short lapse of time, then this event or fact is very widespread and worth our attention. Even if it’s not.

And then we begin to create hype around it.

Now, imagine that in the globalized world 1000 people have heard the story about a dreadful virus from two same sources and, frightened, keep spreading word-of-mouth about it among their social circle. And what if these 1000 people are journalists and want to find a sensational topic to write about? The next day everybody will be talking about the horrific never-seen-before virus.

Even when there were no so many cases, as we have today, the hype around the coronavirus has already existed due to media.

Now, let’s leave media and take into account bloggers concerned with their popularity.

There are over 152 million blogs on the internet. And everybody wants to carve out their piece of a popularity pie.

Let me explain how it works from the digital marketing perspective.

Imagine there is a video blogger that shots a video about plumbing. His Youtube channel is quite popular in his niche and has a loyal but not very big audience.

And suddenly the coronavirus outbreak begins.

Our smart blogger understands that the coronavirus topic has a broader audience and that he may attract a part of this audience to his channel creating a video about the coronavirus.

But he wants to promote his channel in his specific niche, so he must use keywords like “plumbing” or related long-tail ones. So, the video will be about coronavirus and plumbing.

The blogger knows that Google likes unique content, so it is worth coming up with his own opinion and theory based on plumbing. For instance, “How quality plumbing can save you from the COVID-19”.

He shots the video and, as he wanted, attracts a large audience that hasn’t heard about his channel before. He receives many shares on Facebook because his theory is interesting and the topic is trendy, many backlinks from other bloggers who believe in the power of plumbing against coronavirus. As a result, his video goes up in the Google and Youtube search and he generates much organic traffic, many leads and, hence, makes a bunch of money.

Thus you receive misinformation. When you discover that you were misinformed as your neighbors’ plumbing repair didn’t help them not to catch COVID-19, you give in to panic.

The pandemic topic has a large virality potential, as:

- It’s timely

- It targets the core human concerns

- It invokes emotions

So, everybody uses this topic in their interests and doesn’t even give a damn that they deceive their readers with inaccurate unconfirmed facts and controversial recommendations.

So, what’s bad about so many viral posts about coronavirus from everyone? (I mean bloggers and media who typically don’t write about health)

Facebook has already proven its power due to Brexit and the presidential election in the US in 2016.

And now we’re testing both Facebook and Google in terms of how powerful they are in spreading panic and preparing the ground for an economic crisis.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the global economy is facing its greatest threat since the financial crisis.

Financial analysts have assumed the economic impact of the pandemic may have cut China’s growth in half during the first quarter.

For the whole world, China matters as a source of demand, a source of supply, and a focus of concern for financial markets, as:

1. Sales in China are a major earner for multinational corporations.

2. China is the world’s biggest producer of manufactured components of everything from devices to construction machinery.

So, as China produces so many important details when the coronavirus outbreak began, equities have started to plunge around the world and deliver knock-on blows to various local economies’ wealth.

But now the problem is not only in China’s economic drop. Bloomberg has created 4 possible scenarios of coronavirus spread, from the local coronavirus outbreak in China to the worst one — global pandemic. In the case of the fourth scenario realization that we have now, all the countries face severe shock like that in China at the beginning of the year.

According to Bloomberg forecasts, in the case of the pandemic, GDP growth in 2020 will go to zero, i.e. the world’s lost output will hit $2.7 trillion — the equivalent of the UK GDP.

Policy research predating the coronavirus outbreak suggests there’s a downside risk to even the most pessimistic forecasts. A 2006 paper by the World Bank put the potential cost of a severe flu pandemic at 4.8% of global GDP. In case this scenario comes true, the GDP’s negative growth will be competing with those of the 2009 post-financial-crisis one.

Unlike COVID-19, the 1918 influenza pandemic, the most severe pandemic in recent history that killed over 50 million people worldwide (500 million were infected), didn’t have much impact on global trade or financial markets.

Spanish flu pandemic
Spanish flu pandemic

To date, there are 3.76M confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 1.25M people from this quantity have totally recovered. So, for now, it’s incomparable with the 1918 influenza in terms of numbers.

But due to globalization and the activity of media and bloggers, the panic spreads faster than the virus itself.

Covid-19 affects both supply and demand. The supply of goods and services suffers naturally because factories and offices are shut and output falls as a result. Demand also falls because consumers stay at home and stop spending which is natural too. But the fear spread among people all over the world will make demand diminution last much longer than the virus outbreak.

Countries such as Italy will be afraid of opening their borders because of a fear of reinfection. People will be afraid to travel after the danger is gone, because of the same reason. Then airline companies will quickly go bust unless they receive financial assistance.

Local economies will suffer from panic too, as people will cancel their usual activities, like visits to hairdressers, doctors, and training in gyms. So, the whole economy will stagnate.

This pandemic may not only change the global economy but also the rules that regulate it. According to Time, coronavirus pandemic may end the first phase of globalization and set back the world with its achievements like opened markets, global supply chains, and the emergence of middle classes.

Despite the disease is very serious, according to a report of a joint World Health Organization-China mission, 80% of those who will catch it, will have a mild form of the disease. Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, sais a mild form of the disease is “nothing that will make you feel like you need to run to a hospital”.

My point is that it is worth reading just several authoritative sources, ignore the dreadful news, and take precautions that you can.

Bloggers will continue to receive their market share of hype. And due to that, we may have hard times after the pandemic is ended.

Yet, each of us can be responsible, make our contribution to the creation of a peaceful climate, and not let infodemia affect us.

QUarantined Italians sing together from balconies

The panic is what we have to be afraid of the most. Because the coronavirus will be defeated, and the world economy, weakened by our fear, will remain. And getting up tomorrow, we may not recognize the world where we fall asleep today.

What do you think about COVID-19? Are you horrified? Or do you sing at home as Italians do?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Jane Dolskaya

Jane is a B2B marketing blogger and content marketer, sales funnels architect, digital marketing consultant. She is fond of in-depth analytics and good coffee. You can read more of her articles on Medium: https://medium.com/@jane.dolska


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