Labels for the COVID-19 virus and its variants have incited xenophobia

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of a dying cell (blue) closely contaminated with SARS-CoV-2 (yellow), the virus that causes COVID-19. Credit score: NIAID Built-in Analysis Facility, Fort Detrick, Maryland.

Labels for the virus and its variants have incited xenophobia and different harms all through the pandemic. Psychology professor Hilary Bergsieker, the lead creator of an upcoming new examine on the problem, provides insights into stopping this naming-and-blaming drawback.

How did public discourse in the course of the early days of the pandemic result in expressions of hostility, xenophobia, and stigma?

Early pandemic media protection centered on mounting dying tolls and tracing the supply or path of the virus overseas, fostering a local weather of concern surrounding a “international” risk. As in prior pandemics, some responded by scapegoating “outsiders”—Chinese language and Asian folks. After Trump first tweeted “Chinese language virus” on March 16, 2020, this time period took off on Twitter and conservative media. #ChineseVirus tweets have been considerably extra prone to include detrimental sentiments and racist hashtags, comparable to #YellowManFever, in addition to extra disgust and hostility. With anti-Asian assaults on the rise, limiting stigmatizing language that has the potential to incite violence is an pressing precedence.

What are different examples of phrase selections shaping public attitudes?

Prior analysis exhibits language shapes attitudes. For instance, folks report extra help for “help to the poor” vs. “welfare,” “homosexual marriage” vs. “same-sex marriage,” “assisted dying” vs. “euthanasia.” Analysis demonstrating extra optimistic attitudes towards “noncitizens” vs. “unlawful aliens” not too long ago led the U.S. authorities to revise its terminology in official coverage and paperwork to keep away from stigmatizing that folks group. Utilizing language that’s respectful, clear, informative, and non-stigmatizing may help keep away from a blame sport, as an alternative fostering a deal with resolving points and selections at hand.

What’s the resolution for avoiding detrimental or racist labels in a public well being disaster?

One important step is offering useful, group-neutral alternate options to problematic ethnic or geographic labels. Quickly after the WHO proposed the time period “COVID-19” describing the virus sort and timing, most mainstream media and establishments (together with UWaterloo) adopted this time period constantly. Sadly, we nonetheless lack fluent, useful names for variants of concern: Phrases comparable to “B.1.1.7” or “P.1″—although scientifically exact—are merely tougher for non-experts to recall and repeat than (problematic) labels just like the “British” or “Brazilian” variant. Offering even an arbitrary set of standardized variant labels, like these for hurricanes, might cut back the percentages of scapegoating people from these areas.


WHO switches to Greek alphabet for virus variant names


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College of Waterloo

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