collective action

Keyboard Epidemiology

On nearly every syracuse.com article about a coronavirus related closing or cancellation, there are people on Facebook reacting about ‘how stupid’ it all is and cracking up via laughing emoji at the ‘sheep who panic.’ They complain about massive overreactions, implying they know better than everyone, and making the spurious flu comparison ad nauseam.

Of course, they don’t know better. It’s clear from even a cursory look at the evidence that this is serious and that it’s smart to collectively try to reduce the spread of the virus to our high-risk friends, neighbors, and strangers, so that they don’t die.

Regardless of their online lolling, social-distancing, as slow and rocky as it is happening in many cases, is going to save people. It likely already has. It’s going to make the virus less deadly. It’s going to mean less people get sick. It’s maybe going to mean most of us won’t know anyone who’s health is affected even a little.

But there’s a downside to effective social mobilization in the face of contagion. When, hopefully, there are less cases than we are being warned possible, less death, then many of these smug, ignorant keyboard epidemiologists are going to say “see, I told you it was no big deal you tools.” Maybe it will be them saved by this smart, collective action, but they will continue to act as if they were above it all. They’ll act as if they knew better all along, ignoring the possibility (reality) that it was all the cancellations and caution that reduced the spread of disease. A lot of them will likely blame “libs” and the “nanny-state” for ruining the economy, as if they are also experts on global financial systems and wise investing.

One of the biggest challenges to doing ‘the right thing’ at the collective level, as a decision maker, or just a conscientious citizen, is that there will always be ignorant naysayers who care more about being ‘smarter’ than they do about doing what experts advise according to science and reason.