Week 9: Updates on Final Chapter (Misinformation)

Thus far I have expanded upon my final chapter! I plan to continue to work on it throughout the week, especially expanding on my analysis of the mentioned artists and exhibits. For now, I have expanded on what I wrote for last week's update and am working with my group in preparing for our final presentation. This is our planned chapter structure.

1. Emma: history of pandemics

2. Trina: conspiracy theories

3. Omar: racial inequality

4. Ali: social psychology of protest

5. Arron: hoarding & panic

6. Darius: minimal art influencing decisions

7. Sarah: future vaccines

Introduction/Context:

 

We have been quarantined for about two months since the rise of coronavirus in the United States. Quarantine itself has definitely had tolls on the motivation and productivity of people across the nation and in tandem with the general chaos and instability of our current lifestyle has overshadowed the panic that has accompanied our pandemic and arguably contributed the most to the negative effects of this pandemic. While the accompanying chaos and stress is unavoidable, we CAN mitigate panic through regulating misinformation and consequently reducing the negative effects of panic.

 

Hoarding during the pandemic:

 

As we already know, empty grocery shelves and the store limits on toilet paper purchases sensationalized by the media have shown us an assumed to be negative effect of panic: hoarding. Hoarding is definitely a product of panic that also builds upon itself to create the snowball effects of empty shelves and limited stock. According to psychologists; however, this behavior is a normal stress response. In fact, panic purchases are viewed as accommodating our three psychological needs: autonomy or control, relatedness or beneficial activity, and competence or affirmation of decisions. Formally, shopping as a therapy is referred to as retail therapy. Unfortunately during this pandemic, retail therapy has escalated significantly due to conflicting information about COVID-19 that has led people to pursue shopping to a larger degree than is normal.

 

Hoarding as an action enables people to feel as if they are in control of a fearful situation or combatting the situation in some way. Amidst this global pandemic, people find psychological solace in being able to purchase relatively affordable goods. The most worrisome trend associated with hoarding is that the relief it provides is defined as “temporary” and will likely result in the hoarder falling into an unending cycle of hoarding (VanDyke et al., 2020). Consequently, many people that are in need of hoarded supplies often lose access to them: medications being a prime example of hoarding’s negative consequences.

 

Fig. 1 Empty Grocery Shelves due to panic

 

In light of the possible consequences of hoarding, how can we mitigate these effects? Melanie VanDyke, an Associate Professor of Psychology at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy, suggests using a shopping list, not deviating from the list, and working to manage stress daily through venues like meditation and enjoyable activities (VanDyke et al., 2020). It can also be helpful to stop and think about what one is doing, hoarding, before committing to making said irrational purchases. Do I need this much toilet paper?

What do I gain from buying this much? More often than not, people benefit, by avoiding impulsive decisions, from asking themselves somewhat obvious introspective questions.

 

As aforementioned, hoarding is a negative consequence of panic, but the process itself is normal. In fact, according to Stephanie Preston, a behavioral neuroscientist, humans and animals similarly are motivated to “acquire and save resources” when either are stressed. The orbitofrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens - the brain regions that are responsible for “organizing goals and motivations to satisfy needs and desires” (Preston) - are active when people are making bulk purchases and hoarding. Hoarding is a normal process, as normal as squirrels hoarding nuts in their cheeks. Therein, the root of panic as a problem is not in the stress that is induced and our appropriate responses, but the cause of said stress: the media and the way they disperse information about COVID-19.

 


Fig. 2 Toilet Paper Hoarding / Bulk Purchases

 

Hoarding as Art:

 

If hoarding isn’t necessarily bad, how can it be used for good? Clare Graham is an artist that hoards, but hoards beautifully. He uses his hoarded supplies to create art. From bottle cap vases to yardstick benches he utilizes his hoard of said resources to construct something unique and beautiful. Graham’s art conveys both the idea that anything can be made into art and sheds a positive light on the typically negatively perceived artist habit of hoarding. Everything that is hoarded can even have further meanings for the individual hoarding. Hoarding isn’t inherently bad and can be expressively used for good.

 

Fig. 3 Bottlecap vase and yardstick bench

 

What makes Clare Graham’s work even more unique is that it not only encapsulates the positive applications of hoarding, but also promotes recycling, as many of his objects of choice are things like recycled bottle caps, wires, and even tin cans. I have personally always been a proponent of making something out of what most perceive as nothing and Graham’s work aligns with my personal artistic interpretations perfectly. Further, the exemplified value of recycling corroborates my point that art can be used as a medium to communicate beauty through what is traditionally viewed negatively, such as hoarding.

 

Misinformation:

 

Misinformation has been rampant in tandem with the spread of the coronavirus and the beginnings of this pandemic, enough to define this pandemic as an infodemic of sorts. There have been many instances of widespread misinformation throughout this pandemic: 5G telephone poles spreading the virus, coronavirus being a chinese bio-weapon, and Bill Gates implanting microchips in vaccine recipients being a few examples of the conspiracies and misinformation that have been spread. Rather than focusing on individual cases; however, I would like to instead study and convey the way misinformation spreads, how we can counter this misinformation, and some art exhibits that spread this message.

 

Before I dive into misinformation causes and counters, I would like to clarify that I do view combating the currently circulating conspiracies as important, but also a short term solution. While it is possible to debunk these specific theories, I believe it to be of utmost importance to attack misinformation at its roots by educating the general public on how to filter the truth from sensationalized fiction, which I hope to accomplish through this chapter.

Fig. 4 5G Tower suspected of spreading the virus

 

So how does misinformation spread? The internet and primarily through social media, where most people ironically get their news. In the digital age, we receive and interpret information quickly and unfortunately have bad internet habits of believing what we read without necessarily confirming details. Some serious implications of this are exemplified by labeling theory. Labeling theory, in this context, serves to explain that labels associated with symptoms can lead to patients unnecessarily limiting themselves (Bedson et al., 2004). When people notice experiences of pain or discomfort, which could simply be a product of diet or exercise, they may look to the internet for solutions to these issues and end up diagnosing themselves with a certain disease that had listed their particular pain as a symptom. An extreme example of this is an elderly person that is experiencing knee problems diagnosing themselves as suffering from osteoarthritis. People are not exercising appropriate internet usage. If medically accurate information could be misinterpreted and misused, the dangers of misinformation are obvious. This issue is heightened when the misinformation is distributed by celebrities or political figures due to our top-down information system - lay people receive and trust information that they receive from individuals in power, like aforementioned celebrities and even our current president. Below are a few examples.

 

Fig. 5 Actor Woody Harrelson spreading 5G telephone misinformation

 

In this example, actor Woody Harrelson is spreading the 5G telephone line conspiracy through his instagram. The 18,310 people (minimum 18,310 as the traction of the post has likely increased since the point of this screenshot) that liked his post and the many others that have seen the post have now received this false information. Of course whether or not the information is circulated and believed depends on the person viewing it, but the amount of visible impact it has had alone (through comments and likes, not even accounting for views) is significant.

Fig. 6 In a whitehouse briefing President Trump suggested antibiotic injection as a cure

 

People believe the words of those in any form of authority - whether it be a celebrity, president or physician. After Trump made the suggestion of antibiotic injections as a cure, many physicians received calls from patients confirming whether or not this was true (Yglesias, 2020). The physicians obviously had to dissuade their patients from pursuing this “treatment.” Popular brands such as Lysol even had to speak out publicly, stating that “As a global leader in health and hygiene products, we must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route),”  thereby denying Trump’s claims. This is the most fortunate outcome that could have resulted from cases of misinformation. Patients calling their physicians or manufacturers for confirmation is the appropriate response, but surely there are lesser documented individuals that have blindly trust authority like Trump and harmed themselves in the process.

 

Presented with the dangers of misinformation, how can we go about countering it? Popular social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have risen to combat the spread of fake news and misinformation by removing any misleading posts and promoting the WHO link when the virus is searched. The reformation of social media is inspiring, but undoubtedly a slow change. We, as consumers, should work to change and improve the ways we interpret  information instead of taking everything at face value. To start, consumers should learn to fact check any information they consume. For information regarding the virus, it is easy for consumers to check the WHO website for confirmation and information without certification should be doubted. Also when searching on the broader web for a fact check, it is best to read the intro sentences provided by google to save time and make better decisions on what links to read and it’s also smart to consume media from trusted and credible organizations like the New York Times or Wall Street Journal.

Fig. 7 WHO has created a whatsapp to answer questions

 

Misinformation Art:

 

Art is an expressive and communicative medium through which artists can spread the message against misinformation. Mark Bryan does so excellently in his Fake News exhibit, held at the San Luis Obispo Museum, which features satirical paintings mocking Trump’s tweets and American news consumption. Many of the attendees empathize and vocalize the degree with which misinformation is a serious problem.

https://vimeo.com/405252572
 

Works Cited

Chang, Brittany. “More than 40% of Republicans Think Bill Gates Will Use a COVID-19 Vaccine to Implant a Location-Tracking Microchip in Recipients, According to Survey.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 23 May 2020, www.businessinsider.com/republicans-bill-gates-covid-19-vaccine-tracking-microchip-study-2020-5.

“Understanding the COVID-19 Effect on Online Shopping Behavior.” The BigCommerce Blog, 20 May 2020, www.bigcommerce.com/blog/covid-19-ecommerce/#understanding-panic-buying-and-coronavirus.

Preston, Stephanie, and University of Michigan. “COVID-19: Why Hoarding Supplies Is Human Nature, According to a Behavioral Neuroscientist.” World Economic Forum, www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/evolution-coronavirus-covid19-panic-buying-supplies-food-essentials/.

Yglesias, Matthew. “President Trump's Dangerous Suggestion That the Coronavirus Be Treated with Bleach Injections, Explained.” Vox, Vox, 24 Apr. 2020, www.vox.com/2020/4/24/21234427/trump-coronavirus-bleach-injection-ultraviolet-light-treatment

Hutchinson, Andrew. “New Study Shows Celebrities Are Key Distributors of COVID-19 Misinformation on Social Media.” Social Media Today, 9 Apr. 2020, www.socialmediatoday.com/news/new-study-shows-celebrities-are-key-distributors-of-covid-19-misinformation/575753/.

O'Brien, Chris. “Celebrities and Politicians Are Rapidly Spreading Coronavirus Misinformation.” VentureBeat, VentureBeat, 8 Apr. 2020, venturebeat.com/2020/04/08/celebrities-and-politicians-are-rapidly-spreading-coronavirus-misinformation/.

Nawrat, Allie. “Covid-19 Outbreak: How Misinformation Could Fuel Global Panic.” Pharmaceutical Technology, 27 Feb. 2020, www.pharmaceutical-technology.com/features/covid-19-outbreak-how-misinformation-could-spark-global-panic/.

Ellis, Erica. “Mark Bryan: Fake News.” SLOMA, 16 Apr. 2020, sloma.org/exhibition/mark-bryan-fake-news/.

VanDyke, Melanie. “Understanding Hoarding Responses to Covid-19: Where Did All the Toilet Paper Go?” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA, adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/understanding-hoarding-responses-covid-19-where.

“Be Careful About What You Read Online.” Mental Help Be Careful About What You Read Online Comments, www.mentalhelp.net/blogs/be-careful-about-what-you-read-online/.

Bedson, John et al. “Labelling chronic illness in primary care: a good or a bad thing?.” The British journal of general practice : the journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners vol. 54,509 (2004): 932-8.

Images:

“State Lawmaker Introduces Anti-Hoarding Legislation during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The Advance of Bucks County, 30 Mar. 2020, www.buckslocalnews.com/news/state-lawmaker-introduces-anti-hoarding-legislation-during-the-covid-/article_b78172e4-72a7-11ea-a40e-4b2263749ebf.html.

Harry Chapin Food Bank. “Food Bank Struggles with Retail Donations as Hoarding Intensifies.” Harry Chapin Food Bank, Harry Chapin Food Bank https://Harrychapinfoodbank.org/Wp-Content/Uploads/2020/03/Virus-Fears-Create-Frenzy-to-Buy-Toilet-Paper-in-Australia-.Jpg, 3 Apr. 2020, harrychapinfoodbank.org/harry-chapin-food-bank-and-the-coronavirus-march-21/.

Kaur, Harmeet. “The Conspiracy Linking 5G to Coronavirus Just Will Not Die.” CNN, Cable News Network, 9 Apr. 2020, www.cnn.com/2020/04/08/tech/5g-coronavirus-conspiracy-theory-trnd/index.html.

C l a r e G r a h a m A r t, www.claregraham.com/ARTpageHOME.html.

“WHO Health Alert Brings COVID-19 Facts to Billions via WhatsApp.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/who-health-alert-brings-covid-19-facts-to-billions-via-whatsapp.