Catastrophic Fear Management in the Digital Age

A coronavirus pandemic is breaking out around the world.

Despite the fact that many countries around the world have become increasingly nationalist and isolationist over the past few years, the world is still very interconnected. Because of the nature of our connectivity, it is no surprise that a highly contagious virus is able to spread so quickly around the world.

From the perspective of a digital citizen, I’ve noticed a few interesting developments take place as a result of the outbreak. Documented below:

1. Most people in 1st world nations have had their ability to tolerate fear removed as a result of their longstanding comfortable lifestyles.

The notion of discussing the probability of an outbreak scares people and leads to an argument about “fear-mongering”. This breaks down into 2 camps, those that approach the outbreak from a risk management perspective and those that approach it from a cannot process fear because their countries are too developed for “that type of thing to happen”.

It forms a type of catastrophic paradox. Because many people don’t believe it could happen, they are paralyzed by fear, because they are paralyzed by fear they don’t prepare for the worst case scenarios. As a direct result of this lack of preparation, any outbreak that does occur will more than likely move into worse case scenarios due to lack of preparation.

2.The outbreak has also highlighted the lack of good standard practices for identifying good information online. Digital Citizens must understand the reality of the internet (anyone can be an armchair expert or have underlying motives for spreading information) and there is still a general lack of understanding on how to question the validity of information presented to us.

As an example, governments seek to control populations. It’s much harder to control a terrified population. So, governments will spread information seeking to calm their constituents.

3. This is related to a core issue that digital citizens face – an understanding of how modern credentialing via social proofing works and how governments and global governing bodies do not always have perfect information flow. It is especially true of global governing bodies. In this case, the WHO has seemingly acted slowly and out of an abundance of caution in the hopes that their caution will make them look smart.

They don’t want to induce a panic and as a result lose funding from nations that deal with a panic’s fallout. A truly insane prospect. Global governing organizations without true power do nothing but spread false narratives which do nothing but feed the catastrophic outbreak paradox.

4. Although digital citizen’s are accustomed to an internet full of search engines and filters, it’s still incredibly hard to filter and source niche information. As an example, sourcing a solid viral outbreak preparedness list. There are many tid-bits to be found but in general, there doesn’t seem to be one main repository for information on how to best prepare. The American CDC and WHO have information but they seem intentionally vague and disjointed.

5. As a direct result of poorly available information, fear leads to a “run” on anything that may be useful during an all out apocalypse. From food hoarding, to masks, and power generators, people stock up on things they have no idea if they will need or not. This could be better addressed by actual clear guidelines on what you need and don’t need at varying stages of an outbreak.

6. Most people don’t have individual level protocols for an emergency situation. Who will get the kids? What is our plan for getting food and information? Will we shelter in place or move to a rural area?

7. Because there are a lack of general disaster protocols by most people and in combination with the catastrophic paradox, people will react out of fear. Clogging highways and preventing emergency responders, hitting supermarkets hard and hoarding resources causing an unevenly distribution of food and forcing people without food to move in search of it. This places a further strain on transportation resources, on governments trying to quarantine populations and ultimately leads to a more severe viral outbreak.

The bottom line is that society has developed an unhealthy aversion to fear. If we can’t have real conversations about fear, receive real facts on situations because we don’t want to spread fear, the outcomes will be exponentially worse due to poor information flow. As digital citizens, its imperative that we source and filter information appropriately (regardless of our fear) to navigate catastrophic situations appropriately.

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