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Coronavirus in the Time of Tweeters

Coronavirus in the Time of Tweeters

Monday, 9 March, 2020 - 08:00
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

The politician said he does not recall a time when one issue had taken up so much of the world’s headlines and for such a long period of time like the coronavirus. It has become the main concern of governments, companies and people. It is the main headline across television screens, websites and newspapers and the main concern for scientists. Most alarming is that the virus has not finished claiming victims and damaging the global economy.


We recall how the world held its breath in the 1960s during the Cuban missile crisis that left the United States and Soviet Union on the verge of nuclear war. Many countries at the time felt that they would not have been affected by the conflict. The world again came to attention with the fall of the Berlin wall, but many countries also felt unaffected by any of the repercussions of the development. In 2001, the world was gripped by hours or days of shock when al-Qaeda took its war to American soil on September 11. The concern, however, abated when the world recovered from its shock.


We are now facing a different problem in a different world. It is the first time that we can confirm that social media has truly turned the world into a “global village” where interests, fates and neighborhoods are connected despite their differences.


The politician noted that the problem is both dangerous and comprehensive because it has directly affected 90 countries and counting. Moreover, the virus is having a shocking impact on stocks, the oil market, trade, imports, aviation, tourism and the industry sector. This pushed the International Monetary Fund to announce it was dedicating 50 billion dollars to affected countries, especially after the global economic growth dropped by 1 percent. The situation has led to discussions about worst case scenarios and that the global economy could lose up to 2.7 trillion dollars in the fourth quarter of this year or what amounts to nearly Britain’s GDP.


He did not rule out the possibility that the world was headed towards a new global economic crisis that will inevitably impact development plans, exacerbate problems of unemployment and fuel instability, especially in countries that lack effective institutions that can absorb such shocks. The politician stressed at the same time that we are not headed towards the end of the world, which has already witnessed epidemics that have claimed a massive number of victims and caused major economic damage. He hailed the decisive way in which China handled the outbreak when it isolated some 56 million people to avoid the uncontrollable spread of the virus.


He noted that a major part of the panic can be attributed to the initial shock that such a virus could spread at a time of such scientific and technological advancement and that given this advancement, the world has been helpless to quickly come up with a decisive solution.


He added that another part of the problem is the way the media has covered the virus. We are living in a time of competitive media that seeks scoops often while wading into sensationalist reporting all for the sake of garnering more viewers and readers. The media must, therefore, act responsibility and realize that creating panic will leave a costly impact on the stability of the people and economies. There is a difference in reporting the truth as it is and between exaggeration and sensationalism through various headlines and tweets.


Another politician offered a different view. He said that every virus death is unfortunate, but we must remember that the coronavirus victims are so far much less than the numbers claimed by conflicts, traffic accidents or drug addiction. He noted that the virus victims are much less than those claimed by ISIS or the Halabja massacre, committed by the Saddam Hussein regime with the use of chemical weapons. He remarked that Iran’s current deaths are less than those registered during the crackdown on recent protests and that the global deaths are less than a single day of heavy fighting in the Syrian war.


He said the world knows these facts, but its major fear is attributed to the mysterious nature of this killer that has spread throughout the world, which in turn has yet to come up with a cure. The problem is that the coronavirus emerged during the time of tweeters and the race to come first in reporting deaths, new infections and potential losses.


It would be too much to hold the media responsible for sparking the panic. There is no doubt that some media lacks guidelines that are necessary during the time when reporting has rid itself of the restrictions that used to keep it in line. The truth should be told, however, that the media also played a major role in warning about the new killer. Serious media also played a role in promoting awareness campaigns and preventative measures aimed at limiting the risk of infection. Most importantly, the media’s obsession with the coronavirus has prompted governments to prepare for seriously confronting the outbreak.


It is clear that the media wants to be present in covering news about the coronavirus. The truth is that the scale of the problem has imposed itself on television screens, online platforms and newspapers. We are living in the age of the coronavirus and nothing can compete with it generating such concern, attention, headlines and tweets. The unprecedented scenes, the rapid spread, fear of the unknown and lack of a cure. We should blame the coronavirus, not the tweeters.


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