Be media literate with coronavirus news

by Jessica Octavio, Contributor

Over the last several weeks, San Diego State has been sending out emails about the coronavirus regarding its effect on study abroad programs and in-class meetings. There is a lot of information going around and it can be overwhelming, but it is important that we are receiving accurate and rational information.

When there is a widespread health concern, the role of the media is to raise awareness and provide valuable information to the general public. A quick Google search on coronavirus or a visit to the Twitter news tab shows that web giants are working to make sure people are directly plugged into reputable sources such as the Center for Disease Control and World Health Organization, along with mass media outlets like The New York Times and Washington Post. 

However, a recent poll by The Daily Aztec showed that SDSU students are more likely to receive news via social media than any other media platform. Although social media is awesome for giving people a space to voice their concerns, engage in discourse and share memes about coronavirus, it’s a hotbed for misinformation and sensationalism. 

It’s entirely within our rights as Americans who enjoy free speech to use the internet to say what’s on our minds, to joke around or to try our best to understand a virus that’s affecting thousands across the world. However, in the conversation about coronavirus, it’s important to make a distinction between what ought to be a matter of opinion and what should only be discussed as a matter of fact. 

Right now, I can go online and blast that this is the end of the world and that everyone should mob to Costco to stock up for doomsday. On the other hand, I can also post that nothing — not even coronavirus — is going to stop me from eating food off the ground within the five-second-rule, and everything will be fine. 

Although I probably shouldn’t do any of those things, it would ultimately fall upon my followers and friends to understand that my speculations about coronavirus don’t mean a whole lot. Even if I posted about the virus for a laugh, some likes or an ounce of attention, I’d have to reflect if the trade-off for those things are worth contributing baseless views to a vast online audience.

I don’t think there is a consensus among the general public or experts on how exactly this disease will play out in the next several months, and it’s impossible to try to predict the future. 

Understanding other epidemics throughout history, such as SARS in 2003 and the Spanish Flu of 1918, is helpful for predicting how diseases can spread. Although, this can also invite people to make hasty comparisons between COVID-19 and other events in the past. That’s why I think it’s valuable to hear the perspectives of multiple sources and health experts, including news sources and even our faculty here on campus. 

This is the time to check our media literacy and critically evaluate the sources we get news from, especially when it comes to topics that may be unfamiliar to us. This includes public health and viral disease risk management.

The present-day reality of the impact of coronavirus is indisputable, and it must be acknowledged. The rules for disease prevention remain the same: wash your hands with soap and water, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water isn’t available and avoid touching your face – especially the nose, eyes and mouth. 

Jessica Octavio is a sophomore studying microbiology.