What Contributes to a Moral Panic and Whether or Not You Believe the "Panic" Is Realistic in the Case of Coronavirus
The deaths are mounting. The end is nowhere in sight. As the number of cases and the number of places being infected by the novel coronavirus grows, everyone from Wall Street to the man on the street seems rattled. But how much of the fear is being driven more by emotions than facts?
And, of course, the repercussions move from the global health sphere into business and politics. But it is also right that we must not panic. It would be wrong to say there is good news coming out of COVID-19, but there are causes for optimism; reasons to think there may be ways to contain and defeat the virus. And lessons to learn for the future. The first cases of AIDS were described in June 1981 and it took more than two years to identify the virus (HIV) causing the disease. With COVID-19, the first cases of severe pneumonia were reported in China on December 31, 2019 and by January 7 the virus had already been identified. The genome was available on day 10. We already know that it is a new coronavirus from group 2B, of the same family as SARS, which we have called SARSCoV2. The disease is called COVID-19. It is thought to be related to coronavirus from bats. Genetic analyses have confirmed it has a recent natural origin (between the end of November and the beginning of December) and that, although viruses live by mutating, its mutation rate may not be very high.
Finally, by inflating the visibility of inflammatory content, social media mobilize animosity towards common enemies and transform uneasy concern into full-blown panic. Alongside breeding fissiparous societies, multi-media platforms can be wielded to engineer crises. Historically, panics require the mass media to generate sufficient concern and indignation. Social media expand the pathways of panic production. As detailed below, by allowing ordinary netizens to identify and sanction transgression, they unleash participatory, crowd-sourced panics (Morgan J, Shaffer K. (2017). Additionally, as architectures of amplification, their structural features can be commandeered to promote moral contests that are surreptitious, automated, and finely calibrated in their transmission and targeting. Conventional wisdom suggests that panics are spearheaded by seasoned and advantageously positioned activists and elites. By expanding capacities of media production and distribution, digital communications permit citizens to directly publicize issues and promote collective action. Typically this has been associated with amateur news-making and attempts to document injustice and promote transparency and accountability but scholars have recently documented opposing trends, where social media are appropriated to define and enforce public morality (Tanz J. (2017). As lay actors increasingly participate in the exposure and sanctioning of deviance, distinctions between the media, the public and moral entrepreneurs are blurring, ensuring that panics stem from unorthodox sources and display new discursive and interactional contours.
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