At the time of writing this I’m currently in quarantine in a rented property in Chiang Mai. I’m still currently working but I’ve been limiting myself to just my home, no gym, no restaurants and no social engagements outside of my workplace. I’ve been keeping it pretty serious too, I work with a population of people with potentially compromised immune systems through various issues. The life of a substance-use disorder client and addictive disorders client is prone to self-neglect and putting self in precarious situations. So, I need to tread rather carefully and take extra precautions that I don’t spread infection or get infected myself.
These are times of great uncertainty for the future of the world presently, we’re not all too clear of the repercussions that of COVID-19 could bring about. Where will it take the world? Financial strain? Collapse of Structure? Will it all be back to Normal?
No one can say for sure.
One thing that struck me as being quite uncanny recently is how desperate some individuals are for attention amidst this crisis. I’ve seen a lot of it on Facebook and other social media outlets. Panic, fear and scaremongering are the common themes.
This isn’t just a recent event, it’s been slowly creeping in over the years more and more.
My first personal realization of this was in 2015 when I was working on tour as a counsellor for a rock band, I was due to meet some people in Shepard’s Bush, London. I was listening to some music on my phone and I paused to pull out my phone and check for directions of the location.
Unbeknown to me someone was sneaking up from behind me, suddenly he began to scream down my ear. I looked over my shoulder annoyed and confused, unfortunately for him he didn’t get the “jump-scare” he was looking for, as the music I listen to pretty loud and obnoxious anyway.
I was a bit miffed and perplexed, I thought there might be something wrong with the gentleman in question, then I saw that his friend was standing in front of me filming the event.
I began to click what they were trying to do, this was “jump-scare” reaction, where people try to upset unwitting members of the public in order to get clicks on youtube.
It’s very similar to a show that used to be on ITV called Beadle’s About. The former-host used to arrange elaborate hoaxes on unwitting people and then film the reactions. These were usually big elaborate set ups like false jobs, decoy cars being destroyed…etc.
Back in the late 1980’s or early 1990s, you would need a production company and TV broadcasting in order to produce something that could be viewed by an audience greater than your own family and perhaps a couple of friends.
Now all you need is mobile phone, you don’t even really need a computer for editing now, most apps on modern smart phones can edit videos even in High Definition.
I’m not saying this is bad thing, it can be great, I know that my family love seeing video of my daughter and our times in Thailand. However, it is being used very maliciously by certain people.
I’m not saying that going up behind people and screaming at them is malicious, it is anti-social and bit on the silly side, but what I’ve seen recently over COVID-19 is misleading, malicious, dangerous and potentially very harmful for some people.
Memes (A word actually created by Richard Dawkins) have been popping up all over the place in the last ten years. They have fascinated many psychologists and those wanting to understand sociological affects they have on the world.
I could go on in thousands of words to describe the effect and types of various memes but I don’t want to go too off-topic. On one hand they can be funny, cute and hilarious, but there are certain memes that are designed to stir up panic and upset, especially at the moment.
Recently I fell foul to another facebook misinformation scam. Thailand, the country where I reside, had just announced tighter measures of control with the outbreak of Corona Virus which involves was looking at restricting movement of people.
When I got home the day of hearing this news I checked my facebook, I was stunned by a video that showed what looked almost like Thai or Asian people (from a distance) storming supermarkets and ransacking shelves in absolute panic. I immediately had a physical reaction, I had been mostly taking this COVID-19 disaster in my stride but I instantly felt my heart sink and became wrapped in a moment of anxiety, to the point I shared the video in-case my friends or family needs to be made aware of how bad things really were getting.
The video was a fake, it was a 5minute loop of a video from 2017 during some riots in South America.
I felt really bad for sharing it, as soon as I had posted it one of my respected colleagues had shared the video also. It wasn’t until I had observed the video carefully and watched the comments of the other people that I became aware that this video was totally unconnected to events that were currently unfolding.
The very same night I took a call from a friend who was asking me what my intentions were to do regarding the crackdown on the virus? I told him that I still had my duties regarding work and the world still is turning. He, in a panic, scoffed at my down-to-earth approach to the situation and told me that “There probably isn’t going to be a tomorrow! The government are going to close everything down for the next three months!” There was a genuine fear and anxiety to his voice, he wasn’t trying to whip me up into a frenzy but caution me on how he saw events. I asked him to tell me his sources on this information, because I wanted to be extra cautious that I wasn’t missing out on something. He sent me a link to a blog that was terribly misleading, they were over-speculating on what the government had actually issued. I reassured him that he should go to a more trusted news site, such as the Bangkok Post.
You’re not a Fool
I’m not suggesting anyone is a fool for having these kinds of reactions, we come from an unbroken chain of survival. How our generations have existed before us survived, we’re very institutionally tuned to survive, when we are presented with danger, we can react very fast.
I’ve seen in some police demonstrations how quickly someone can react when the police turn up. In one particular video a criminal managed to unsheathe a knife and step forward two meters stabbing someone in the abdomen within 2seconds!
When presented with a life-threatening situation we have to react very quickly, and furthermore, we will react very quickly!
It’s not just thoughts, they may very well be secondary, the brain itself will send immediate messages all over the body to increase heart rate contractions, drain blood from the stomach and get us ready for fight or flight mode. This is a super-fast reaction, whilst it can save our life it’s also very demanding on the system – especially if we’re already overloaded.
It doesn’t have to all be negative either, some people are sharing stories of extreme positive outcomes that everything will be absolutely perfectly fine – whilst I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, this probably isn’t entirely likely either. Fact is as I currently write this on Sunday morning 29th March 2020 there have been thousands of deaths relating to COVID-19, many people are currently in hospital ill and suffering, many of those going through immense difficulty may die. I don’t want to sound morbid or negative but we have to face the reality and learn to accept.
One of the fool-hardy approaches of poorly equipped therapists is just help people turn their negative thoughts into positive thoughts. This dangerous enthusiasm with limited skill can miss out on the opportunity to effectively deal with problems and can sometimes make people shut down and disengage with therapy. One of the key parts of therapy is acceptance then exploring possibilities.
These videos, like scare-pranks and “fake news” are entirely designed to get your attention and we live in an era where that is very easy to do so. There are multiple platforms out there where you can share whatever you like to some degree and if you go against their rules you can find somewhere else. Facebook and youtube can’t keep up the pace with their uploads, there are millions of uploads and streams constantly so moderation of this is pretty weak.
The most shocking example of this was when a mass murder took place in New Zealand at a mosque and the video was allowed to run almost in its entirety, it was viewed by over 4,000 people live and has since been viewed millions of time on other platforms.
As I have seen things, we are living in an era of reaction, where people can gain a reaction quickly from tens, hundreds, thousands and sometimes millions view from just a mobile phone. Many of us around the world are falling foul to sometimes very devious content that can target specific groups of people or deliberately jerk our emotions about to gain attention.
It’s incredibly Machiavellian and anti-social at times, with no thought for anyone except to get a reaction. As stated, before it’s not all bad, some memes are incredibly funny and witty. I believe it’s time to start looking out for each other rather than pointing fingers of blame. If you see someone posting false news or reactionary media, maybe just make them aware of it rather than slinging insults or blame. Hopefully as a global society we can mature more out of this and help increase a better understanding.
Taking a good break from social media or limiting access to facebook can be good for your mental and physical health https://www.businessinsider.com/break-from-facebook-good-for-mental-health-2018-4
I feel like I need to write this little additional notification, I am a therapist mostly working in the field of Substance Use Disorder and Addictive disorders. Although I have Higher Education in Psychology, Counselling and Healthcare, I am not in a position to speculate about COVID-19 and the spread of viruses. Please do not take anything I have said as medical advice and seek information from trusted sources.