Week 9: Finished Final Rough Draft

After meeting and discussing with my group, I think that my portion of our chapter will work to address how misinformation surrounding both vaccines and stay at home orders can manifest in protest. Since our group is focusing on the history of anti-vax beliefs, it is important to talk about current opinions surrounding vaccines, especially during these pandemic times.

Rough draft  (images will have to be updated for copyright purposes)

In order to curtail the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, many states initiated stay at home orders to limit the number of people entering the public to flatten the curve. These stay at home orders emphasize that people only leave home for essential items (grocery shopping, going to the doctor, etc) forcing many businesses to shut their doors indefinitely. For the most part, essential businesses are ones that “provide critical infrastructure for the state” such as “health care and public health, public safety, food and agriculture and media” (“Stay home except for essential needs”). As the number of cases continue to rise in the United States, states continue to extend the length of stay at home orders. The extension of stay at home orders has been met with growing opposition, resulting in people protesting these orders. On top of this, the anti-vax community is protesting the development of COVID-19 vaccines. There are numerous reasons and factors that drive people to protest. The factors can be associated and connected to social, cultural, and economic factors. COVID-19 has destabilized various social practices along with having a drastic effect on both our national and global economies. In regards to culture, collectivist and individualist cultures have been shown to provide differential responses to COVID-19. In regards to both social and cultural considerations, the media has a huge influence on shaping people’s perceptions. Critically thinking, an individual’s perception is going to influence their behavior. The combination of misinforming media sources, the individualist mindset, and economic turmoil can facilitate a climate of fear and hysteria inspiring people to protest. Whereas a collective culture and the spreading of unity is able to lead to a more cohesive response to COVID-19 with fewer cases and deaths.

 

The Nature of Protesting

         The economic upheaval that COVID-19 has had on business and industry will takes years to recover from. Due to stay at home orders, many businesses have had to shut their doors indefinitely leading to massive rises in unemployment. As of right now, the US has reportedly lost 26.5 million jobs with an unemployment rate of around 20.6%, which makes these the highest numbers reported since the Great Depression (Lambert). Even though the US government approved a $2.3 trillion aid package in order to help small businesses and local governments that has allotted $600 billion in loans for small businesses, unemployment numbers are showing no signs of slowing (Winck). The increase in unemployment has left many financially struggling to cover rent payments and other expenses. These economic factors and turmoil are a driving force to protest the stay at home orders and reopen businesses. While it is important to reduce public exposure to flatten the curve, this method can only be sustainable for so long. The decision to open state and local economies is a strategic one as precautionary measures must be taken in order to try and prevent a second wave from occurring. Incorporating social distancing measures into businesses will further slow economic recovery along with prolonging unemployment (Bartash). Those protesting believe that prolonging stay at home orders will further devastate the economy and lead us to a depression. Many protesters are questioning how the government is deeming a business to be essential and why items that can be purchased in both large retail stores and small businesses can only be done so at a major retailer (Bailey). As states slowly move to relaxing stay at home orders and open things up again, it will be interesting to see whether or not this inspires protests in other states extending lockdown orders.

         Perception of the virus has ultimately translates into how a person is going to behave. Those protesting lockdowns believe that the virus is not a legitimate threat to lead to the closures of schools and businesses (Schonfeld). A large influence to protest is the belief that stay at home orders infringe on people’s personal liberties and constitutional rights. In fact, when there is a government-mandated and enforced lockdown situation “you’re getting into territory that implicates the most fundamental constitutional rights and the right to freedom of movement” (Welna). This type of mentality is a direct consequence of an individualist culture and mindset. The individualist focus on self-expression and the pursuit of personal goals makes people resistant to rapid change, especially if that change is forcing them to comply with rules and government-mandated restrictions (Figueroa). Examination of protest signs reveals several trends: 1) the belief that this virus is not serious and the government is overreacting to this situation 2) the belief that lockdowns are a form of tyranny and control and 3) the spreading of xenophobia and hatred towards Asian communities. The negative messages being spread on posters are fueled by misinformation on coronavirus along with growing frustrations over the lockdown. Dr. Anthony Fauci recently commented that “extended lockdowns could cause irreparable harm and worse health outcomes” and encourage the gradual reopening of states (Zeballos-Roig). He is not the first health professional being questioning the practices and rationale behind the lockdown. The emergence of people questioning the efficacy of the lockdown will most likely further inspire protest efforts to return to normalcy.

 

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Figure 1: An example of a protest sign depicting the viewpoint that the virus is not a serious threat and that the government is being overdramatic.

 

         The next major source of protest comes from the anti-vax community and their opposition to COVID-19 vaccine development. The rapid spread of COVID-19 has inspired vaccine development and clinical trials to test much to the dismay of the anti-vax community. The common belief of anti-vaxxers is that “vaccines are a tool of government control that make big pharmaceutical companies rich and have side effects that cause lasting damage” (Martin). Vaccines are seen as a form of government control and tyranny, a similar belief held by the anti-lockdown community. While many of their claims and beliefs largely come from sources of misinformation their “sense of selfishness and lack of concern for other’s people’s health” could potentially but other people at risk (Szabo). The principles of perception once again can be attributed to the behavior of protest. The anti-vax community sees vaccines as not only a health threat but also a form of government control that infringes on their personal liberties. Developing a vaccine is of critical importance along with working to find other forms of therapeutics; however, the growing resistance towards vaccines could present a major barrier in reaching herd immunity to prevent future outbreaks (Wilson). Even though a vaccine therapy will most likely not be ready until 2021, there is already a substantial amount of resistance present towards its development, which could only grow stronger once a vaccine is manufactured.

 

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Figure 2: Protesters showcasing the belief that vaccines are a form of government control that infringe upon personal freedoms.

 

The Influence of Culture on Perception

         Cultural norms have a strong influence on both perception and behavior. Interestingly enough, there is a large difference between how collectivist and individualist cultures are responding to this pandemic. A collectivist culture is one that is more oriented towards group goals with more of an emphasis placed on the entire group rather than a single individual (Logan). The collectivist culture is able to facilitate and favor the “maintenance of social harmony over the assertion of individuality” (Figueroa). An individualist culture places strong influence on the individual and personal gain rather than looking at the collective. Western countries are typically associated with individualism while Eastern, specifically Asian, countries are tied to collectivism. Research has shown that “collectivist societies are well suited to managing epidemics that require coordination” (Muthukrishna). Since individualist cultures place more value on personal interests this can lead to “inaction until the epidemic touches the individual’s own life” (Muthukrishna). These cultural differences are ultimately able to manifest into different perceptions towards COVID-19 influencing how the country coordinates its response.

Initial analysis on collectivist cultures shows that their emphasis on the whole leads to a better and more coordinated response. Researchers at UCSB have been studying countries responses to COVID-19 from a cultural standpoint and have found that collectivist cultures like China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore mounted a large collective and socially coordinated response to COVID-19 (Logan). South Korea’s rapid response to COVID-19 has been an excellent example of the collectivist response to the pandemic. Within days the country had already established mobilized testing centers and mask handouts, and the national emphasis on community and the feeling of being together significantly decreased the amount of time it took to see improvement (Ladner). Their massive and extensive testing was able to identify and isolate people with mild symptoms so that they couldn’t infect others, which helped to significantly lower their initial spike of cases (Denyer and Johnson). Researchers looking into the correlation between government and culture found that a tight culture and an efficient government had much lower increases in new cases compared to a loser culture and more inefficient government (Gelfand et al., 2020). Tight cultures refer to those of Singapore, Japan, and China in which strict social norms and punishments push away from deviance that further help them coordinate together in response to a pandemic situation (Bavel et al., 2020). The focus on the collective makes people more tolerant of national testing, daily temperature checks, and country-wide shutdowns, which help to slow the spread of COVID-19 (Lamb and Tolbert). Overall, the collectivist response is able to lead to lower case and death rates compared to Western countries.

 

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Figure 3: A mobilized COVID-19 test center in South Korea, which emphasized the widespread testing of individuals as part of their response.

 

The focus on the individual makes it more difficult to mount a coordinate response in a pandemic situation. In the United States, each state is responsible for making its own decisions in regards to lockdowns, leading to an ununified and disconnected response. As of right now come states are slowing starting reopening phases whereas other states continue to extend their orders, like Michigan who has recently extended stay at home orders till June 12th (Elassar).This can inspire people to protest as they can see other states starting to reopen while theirs remains closed, the same rules are not being applied to everyone. The individualist mindset makes people more resistant to short term change and unwilling to give up their social liberties (Aristhough). The issuing of stay at home orders has forced people to drastically change their lives in an extremely short people of time; therefore, individualist people will interpret this as a form of control and limiting personal liberties. It then makes logical sense for these people to execute their first amendment rights of protest as a way to counter and fight back against growing government control.

 

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Figure 4: An example of people in Wisconsin protesting to open the state and end stay at home orders.

 

 

The Use of Media to Spark Fear

         The misinformation that is ever so prevalent in our media works to foster a fear and hysteria over COVID-19, which can then lead to protest. The current climate of our news is to get it out as fast as possible, which can lead to serious repercussions in regards to people’s perception. This can lead to the spreading of false and wrong information as proper research and fact-checking has not been carried out to ensure the quality of the news of being delivered. The bias present in the news is another source of concern as only certain aspects of COVID-19 are being covered rather than providing people with a comprehensive overview. Since the media focuses on rapid spreading of information, “the deluge of real-time information coming at us demands that we engage in a continuous process of selective attention and filtering” (Clark). The spreading of fake cures and therapies online has exploded since the emergence of COVID-19 and can lead to serious consequences. People turning to fake online cures can lead to serious health problems that could even be fatal as some people have been hospitalized from trying them (Wright). Furthermore, the spreading of conspiracy theories such as 5G cell towers causing the virus and the fact that it was engineered by Wuhan scientists as a weapon further creates a feeling of hysteria surrounding the virus (Wright). In today’s climate, a piece of misinformation has the ability to gain lots of traction and popularity, which then can go on to influence the perception of the virus. Misinformation on vaccines has also led to the growing distrust of their use with large numbers of people moving away from vaccinating their children. These situations emphasize the dire need for accurate and informed information to be widely spread. This can enable people can to make informed decisions about their personal health along with being up to date on current events.

 

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Figure 5: An infographic showcasing the prevalence of misinformation along with the opinion that the media is not properly covering COVID-19.

 

         The various media tactics in place are actually fostering people to protest over their fears and angers of this situation. For example, in Taiwan their government uses the term “physical distancing” in order to emphasize the importance distance plays while Western countries use “social distancing” (Logan). The term social distancing is misleading as it carries the connotation of isolation and being cut off from the world, which can then lead to anger over being forced to stay indoors. Physical distancing emphasizes the importance of not coming into contact with people and leaves out the connotation of isolation. In relation to COVID-19, the media is extremely selective on what they choose to cover. Of all the potential therapies being tested and developed, the media is predominately focusing on hydroxychloroquine, remdesivir, and vaccine developments. Coverage on hydroxychloroquine is extremely negative as the media has created this witch-hunt narrative that this long-established drug used by millions of people to manage autoimmune diseases will potentially kill you if used for COVID-19. As a bystander, seeing negative news constantly being pushed can translate into the perception that nothing is being done to create a cure, leading to fear. On top of this, the media saying that life cannot return to normal until we have a vaccine and emphasizing that we will never return to normal again is a poor choice of words during these times. The use of “doomsday” terminology circulating around the media only works to further spark fear and panic. With so much uncertainty present, creating a “this is the end of the world as we know it” narrative only further exacerbates the tensions building. If people hear that their life will never be the same again, it is natural to want to fight to return a sense of normalcy. This translates into fighting stay at home orders, spreading hatred, and questioning government practices. This is closely associated with the individualist mindset, people want the ability to make their own decisions regarding their life, not have the government force them to stay indoors and be told what to do.

 

Conclusion

         COVID-19 has certainly shed light on the power of perception and how it can dictate behavior and actions. Perception is influenced by numerous factors like personal beliefs, culture, environment, and media. Analysis of cultural differences between collectivist and individualist cultures shows how collectivist cultures are more prepared for an epidemic situation as they are able to rely on group efforts to execute a rapid and unified response. The desire of collectivist cultures to maintain social norms and harmony makes people more willing to collaborate with government issues, which has resulted in lower case numbers and deaths from COVID-19. The focus on personal decision making and individual freedoms in many Western countries only creates barriers when trying to mount a coordinated response. People want to retain their freedoms and rights to live life as they choose leading to growing opposition to stay at home orders. Furthermore, rising unemployment and economic concerns have left many financially struggling, increasing the desire to have businesses reopen. Protesting gives people a sense of motivation and purpose as they fight for a cause they believe in. In these times, people are protesting to return to a sense of normalcy. This counters the narrative being spewed by the media emphasizing that life cannot go back to normal for quite some time if ever. This tactic is extremely flawed and problematic as it does nothing to spread a sense of unity and cohesiveness and works to further spread fear and hysteria. At some point, lockdowns and stay at home orders are going to have to come to an end as it is not economically feasible to keep people at home. Reopening states will be a strategic decision based on various factors, but it will most likely be done long before a vaccine is completed. The increasing popularity of the anti-vax community is something to be alarmed by as it shows the power that misinformation has on perception. The large amount of just blatantly wrong information surrounding vaccines is taken to be fact by many people making them perceive vaccines as a dangerous form of government control.

The recovery from COVID-19 will take years but it will hopefully identify problems in our government, health care, and media sectors that can then be improved upon. Future work and precautionary measures need to be combined with educational reforms and efforts that work to give people a basic understanding of viruses and vaccines. If the public is aware of how viruses operate and how they can be transmitted from person to person it can make people more cognizant of concepts like social distancing. Education of vaccines and their benefits on the immune system can work to diminish vaccine fears and hesitancy. If a successful vaccine for COVID-19 is developed, it will be necessary to vaccine almost all of the population to establish herd immunity. From this pandemic, misinformation has severely crippled our response

 

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