Saturday, April 13, 2024 | Shawwal 3, 1445 H
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COVID: Infobesity and sarcasm


For every action, there is an equal or opposite reaction. We don't need to delve into Newton's third law, one of the principles of physics, to see it in everyday life. One example is the coronavirus material.

Engaging with the media means asking questions. Generally, what we see, are sources selecting queries. Answers, many times, are imbalanced, or 'half-baked'. Sources don't like to be probed.

The excess of repetition of awareness information has the opposite reaction: people reached the level of saturation. One of the consequences is the surface of sarcasm as a resistance mechanism – markedly, when restrictions appear to lack logic to individuals.

Good quality information is a commodity; however, the trivial abundance of content thrown at us in different formats just makes things confusing – particularly, when manipulation occurs. Individuals face difficulties in identifying important information.

Managing communication efficiently is not easy; it is much worse during health or natural disasters. Nevertheless, attention to the use of language, balance, and cognitive perceptions are necessary.

For the last six months, we could identify some phases in communication – from the top- down and, horizontal among the public. In the initial phase of the pandemic, communication was all about the what, how, where, why, and fear. Lots of fear. At this stage, it was when we realised that we were forced to stop doing things we liked to do - It was the time when we had to live in a state of uncertainty – and bombarded by all sorts of information.

The second phase was very confusing with the back and forth decisions followed by clarifications - many times, information was not clear. We also saw an outpouring of experts, including social media influencers, turned experts.

During COVID19, the surge of infodemic created serious challenges to health authorities' communication tasks, with the growth of false news, conspiracy theories, and magical cure. Besides, several political leaders influencing the debate and guiding the response to the pandemic contributed to information toxicity. In the past, there were pandemics worse than coronavirus, but in those times, there was no internet connectivity and social media.

The next phase focused on lockdown and its economic and social consequences. All talked on a large scale. Small businesses, children, and teens' concerns were hardly addressed. The languages of persuasion and punishment against those flouting social restrictions were sharp. Blockades, fines, jail, and threats of public shaming were used to instill fear in the exchange of compliance. There are lessons from this observation.

We had it all:  news stories, live debates, special documentaries, and of course, tons of social media material.  The variety of conversations on the pandemic turned toxic. Still, the lack of a proper context to the health situation helped create an illusion that perhaps things are not as bad as claimed – within our own backyard, we can witness some age groups resisting to wearing a mask, or laughing at those wearing one - and so many times, media images showed authorities not wearing masks.

You call it 'infoxication' or 'infobesity' – no matter the name. A large volume of information in any topic can reach a point at which one feels brain fog - we can't digest it all. However, the lack of a balanced and clear communication can create a sense of deceit.

In the newest phase, following the easing of restrictions, there are cautionary stories, staycations and pieces of economic recovery.  Slowly, the issues and sequels of those who were infected or died are sliding away from the public eyes.   Individuals are far more concerned with family needs than to probe the media. The drums are beating for other more pressing issues.

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