Op-Ed: Media Hype Falsely Fuels COVID-19 Panic

Op-Ed: Media Hype Falsely Fuels COVID-19 Panic

(UnitedVoice.com) – Across the US there have been reports of stores and warehouse clubs unable to stock shelves with toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer and milk because of the coronavirus. Universities and schools are closing their doors and going to online instruction. The NBA is canceling the remainder of the season. Concerts are being canceled and Congress has closed the US Capitol building to the public until the first of April.

On Wednesday, my son was traveling for business. At three different major airports, he saw people wearing masks and full protective bodysuits.

If everything about coronavirus feels different, it’s because it is.

People are in a panic.

It’s understandable. This is very different than a natural disaster that you can see coming and can prepare for. You can’t see a virus, so, if someone has it and doesn’t show symptoms, how do you protect against it?

Fear of the unknown is a powerful emotion and media outlets are masters at using it to their advantage.

Virus chatter is 24/7 news and the tricks of the trade have the public in a panic as the media fights for viewers, readers and clicks.

To cure our anxieties, we may need some panic-cillen soon.

Is the Media Inducing Panic?

Panic is found in the fear of the unknown, which results in a dramatic response.

According to some experts, the media is inducing unnecessary panic and is preying on the fears and anxieties of the public for ratings and profits.

A quick Google search about coronavirus resulted in the following titles:

  • How Trump’s insecurity is making the coronavirus crisis worse…
  • Coronavirus updates: Fear batters the economy as U.S. death…
  • Trump address sparks Chaos as coronavirus crisis deepens
  • Two NYC public schools closed over coronavirus

On Wednesday, the Media Research Center said the Washington Post alone had 49 individual articles on its website’s homepage about coronavirus. This included articles ranging from titles such as “Two-thirds of Germany could get the virus” to “How coronavirus has made dating more complicated.”

Can you imagine that date?

“Hi, I’m Don. Want to share some coronavirus?”

Dr. Drew Pinsky said on Fox News that the media is absolutely fanning the flames of the panic surrounding coronavirus and that the panic is “far worse than the virus.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), coronavirus is a large family that includes the common cold, MERS, SARS, and the current A novel coronavirus (nCoV) that we are experiencing right now.

This coronavirus currently has a 3.4% fatality rate. However, they don’t know how many people are actually infected and that number is likely to come down substantially. Some may be carrying the virus and show no symptoms.

Dr. Pinsky reminded viewers that 18,000 people die from the flu every year, so, instead of panicking, what people ought to be doing is following good hygiene practices.

How the Media Works

According to Psychologist Dr. Deborah Serani, the news preys on anxieties to keep viewers watching and ratings up to add more advertisers — and make more money.

People know about the flu, so there isn’t much news about it.

Coronavirus? What’s that?

It’s infecting how many?

People are dying?

Serani said that the psychology of fear-based news is “if it bleeds, it leads.” This form of news has two goals: Grab the viewer’s attention and persuade the news consumer the solution is in the story.

Serani further said that dramatic anecdotes take priority over scientific evidence and that many news outlets hire consultants who help them create fear-based topics, scripts, and imagery. It’s called “stunting” or “just-add-water-reporting,” which is designed to mislead and promote anxiety so that people keep coming back for more news.

It’s Not All Bad

Not all of the media is bad. There are very good news outlets that work hard to report the facts and provide helpful information.

Then there are sites that prey on fear and anxiety.

Some messages need constant repeating. For example, reminding people to follow good sanitary procedures like washing hands, disinfecting surfaces, and practicing overall good hygiene.

How many times have I seen people not wash their hands when they leave the bathroom?

Too many… wash your hand’s folks!

The non-stop alarming tone from some in the media is producing unnecessary panic that results in harmful activities like stockpiling masks. Hospitals and other medical facilities need masks to take care of patients and, if consumers buy them all up, that creates a safety risk to healthcare workers and patients.

If you want to know about your level of risk, how to prevent coronavirus, or what do if you think you have the sickness — visit the CDC’s website. It’s the most comprehensive non-hyped form of information from the scientists and experts working to protect us all from this new and unknown virus.

By Don Purdum, Freelance Contributor

The above opinions are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of the publisher.

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