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Talking the Rona on the Intertubes


I wanted to follow up on Scott’s post about the @Sciencing_Bi sockpuppet incident, which was of course not only discussed here when it came up but was all over the internet. I think there’s a few things going on here, some having to do with the internet generally and some having to do with COVID-19.

First, while some people do have reasons to hide their name on Twitter, most people in 2020 really don’t, especially if they have a sizable account. To say the least, I think we have to be suspicious about anything on Twitter that we can’t trace back to a real person. This particular account was laying it on pretty damn thick with the identity–bisexual female Native American scientist and a sexual harassment survivor–but then this is exactly the kind of “voice” a lot of people are wanting to hear in 2020 and aren’t much concerned whether the “person” is what they say they are. When it’s not connected to a real person, it’s the perfect way for a white person to gain attention for herself. It’s cynical and it is an act of white supremacy by a terrible person.

But…I also want to go into some murkier waters by talking about why this post about “her death” is also an important lesson of caution about how we talk about COVID-19. The tweet did so well because people are rightfully scared about going back into classrooms this fall. Our government has completely failed. The COVID response has launched Donald Trump from maybe not quite as bad a president as Buchanan and Andrew Johnson to decisively the worst president in American history. I hardly need to delineate what a complete disaster this has been in the United States, but if you really want to relive the joy, this Atlantic article will guide you along your path. Of course, the problem is not just Donald Trump or Republicans, but deep problems at the core of American culture, particularly around the idea of an extreme version of selfish individualism that is definitely found on the right but defines quite a bit of both liberal and left politics too, albeit in different ways.

The reality is of course that COVID-19 is a nasty disease that for some people will have long-term negative health benefits. But it is also not one of the worst diseases in human history and talking about it in this way is counterproductive to a proper response. It’s important to remember that not everything concerning the science around fighting the disease is apocalyptic news. The fact seems to be that the chances of catching COVID-19 a second time are quite remote and doesn’t really fit well with other diseases of this type, at least according to these two immunobiologists at Yale and many other articles out there now. People “catching it twice” was almost certainly not actually being cured of it at all. Some sort of vaccine seems to be on its way. There are huge questions about quality, efficacy, etc., but the science on fighting this is moving in the right direction at a very rapid pace, even if seems slow in the context of our once fast-paced lives.

There’s just a difference between taking this seriously and all-encompassing statements like this:

Of course Ortega is well-meaning and right on the merits for most of this. But it is not responsible to say that “each survivor” will suffer decades of health complications. No they won’t. Some will. Some won’t. Or at least none of us have any way of knowing. I don’t. Ortega doesn’t. Even the doctors don’t. But this is way of talking about COVID because on the internet community–which let’s face it, among liberals anyway is made up of people who worry a lot, including myself, are very much ready and willing to believe the worst possible results on everything.

That we live in a such a disastrous nation is a very good reason to revert to worst case scenarios. And for those of us who have been sick or lost people to this terrible disease, it makes even more sense.

But now more than ever we need to focus on being as reasonable and careful and measured as possible. These are dark, hard times. And being played on Twitter or sending out extreme messages about everything going to Hell are situations we have to prepare for and respond against.

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