COVID has brought out the best and worst in people. Instances of violence have dramatically increased and depression is on the rise. But muddled in with the bleak outlook there are also episodes of pure-hearted charity and humanitarian-care, as key workers are recognised and appreciated. Though it’s not all doom and gloom as we all try to pull together, social media is abuzz with people wanting to shout, fear-monger and be heard concerning their beliefs about COVID. Some believe it’s a conspiracy theory, some are locked indoors fearing the potentially deadly virus outside, while others (like me) are back at work where everything feels close to normal. The world is split and in a state of unbalanced chaos as we progress through the pandemic.
As a linguist and a marketer (more specifically a social media and content marketer), the whole pandemic has produced many interesting outcomes in my line of work. First, we had the problematic Government strapline “Stay alert, control the virus, save lives” which garnered public outrage as many disliked the exclusion of the NHS from the original strapline of “Stay home, save lives, protect the NHS”.
Next, we had the controversial Dettol advert that listed an average workday. This advert was negatively received as many social network warriors ran with the slogan “the new normal” when commenting on the state of our work-life balance before COVID hit. These people viewed COVID as a new start for the working world, putting more emphasis on family life and mental health, instead of revenue and numbers.
COVID has brought out a cesspool of linguistic marketing tactics that are under more scrutiny than ever before.
Having studied media linguistics concerning news bias and constructed audience perceptions, along with being a social media and content marketer, I like to think I know a little about how and why news outlets and company’s relay information to us in a certain way. I am not claiming myself to be an expert, as I’m certain anyone with an internet connection could GOOGLE and learn the same theories I learnt at University. The only difference between myself and the person who learn the same information online is I have a few letters behind my name and a certificate which I’m almost certain I have lost. For context, marketing-wise I am experienced in social media and so when people bombard me with issues relating to the hated-algorithm expecting me to not understand I find it quite amusing. I am a social media marketer. If I didn’t know Instagram's, Facebook’s, Twitters and even LinkedIn's algorithms I’d be pretty awful at my job.
Joining these two parts of my life and experience together I believe I can prove some guidance in terms of how and why COVID has been fed to us in a certain way through news outlets and social media. All this is why I decided to respond to one certain Facebook post concerning COVID. The post is copied below:
Words copied and pasted from a hospital worker.
For all you mask wearers (especially those of you who think wearing it outside is NOT stupid ). I know I’m about to burst your “google doctor degree” bubble, but here goes nothing.
I am OSHA certified. I know some of you are too. I don’t really know WHY OSHA hasn’t come forward and stopped the nonsense BUT I want to cover 3 things
• N95 masks and masks with exhale ports
• surgical masks
• filter or cloth masks
Okay, so upon further inspection, OSHA says some masks are okay and not okay in certain situations.
If you’re working with fumes and aerosol chemicals and you give your employees the wrong masks and they get sick, you can be sued.
• N95 masks: are designed for CONTAMINATED environments. That means when you exhale through N95 the design is that you are exhaling into contamination. The exhale from N95 masks are vented to breath straight out without filtration. They don’t filter the air on the way out. They don’t need to.
Conclusion: if you’re in Target and the guy with Covid has a N95 mask, his covid breath is unfiltered being exhaled into Target (because it was designed for already contaminated environments, it’s not filtering your air on the way out).
• Surgical Mask: these masks were designed and approved for STERILE environments. The amount of particles and contaminants in the outside and indoor environments where people are CLOGGING these masks very, VERY quickly. The moisture from your breath combined with the clogged mask will render it “useless” IF you come in contact with Covid and your mask traps it, YOU become a walking virus dispenser. Everytime you put your mask on you are breathing the germs from EVERYWHERE you went. They should be changed or thrown out every “20–30 minutes in a non sterile environment.”
• Cloth masks: I can’t even believe I’m having to explain this, but here it goes. Today, three people pointed to their masks as they walked by me entering Lowe’s. They said “ya gotta wear your mask BRO” I said very clearly “those masks don’t work bro, in fact they MAKE you sicker” they “pshh’d” me. By now hopefully you all know CLOTH masks do not filter anything. You mean the American flag one my aunt made? Yes. The one with sunflowers that looks so cute? Yes. The bandanna, the cut up t-shirt, the scarf ALL of them offer NO FILTERING whatsoever. As you exhale, you are ridding your lungs of contaminants and carbon dioxide. Cloth masks trap this carbon dioxide the best. It actually risks your health, rather than protect it. The moisture caught in these masks can become mildew ridden over night. Dry coughing, enhanced allergies, sore throat are all symptoms of a micro-mold in your mask.
*N95 blows the virus into the air from a contaminated person.
*The surgical mask is not designed for the outside world and will not filter the virus upon inhaling through it. Its filtration works on the exhale, (Like a vacuum bag, it only works one way) but likely stops after 20 minutes, rendering it useless outside of a STERILE ENVIRONMENT (correct Becky, they don’t work in a bar, not even a little bit).
*Cloth masks are WORSE than none. It’s equivalent to using a chain link fence to stop mosquitos.
The CDC wants us to keep wearing masks. The masks don’t work. They’re being used to provide false comfort and push forward a specific agenda. For the love of God, research each mask’s designed use and purpose, I bet you will find NONE are used in the way of “viral defense.”
Just like EVERY Flu season kids, wash your hands. Sanitize your hands. Don’t touch stuff. Sanitize your phone. Don’t touch people. And keep your distance. Why? Because your breath stinks, your deodorant is failing, your shoes are old and stink, that shirts not clean, & I like my space. Trust me I can hear you from here. Lots of reasons to keep your distance and work on body hygiene. But trust me, the masks do not work.
*Occupational Safety & Hazard Association sited.
The top American organization for safety.
They regulate and educate asbestos workers, surgical rooms, you name it.
I know, facts suck. They throw a wrench into the perfectly (seeming) packaged pill you are willingly swallowing. Facts make you have to form your OWN OPINION, instead of regurgitating someone else’s, and I know how uncomfortable that makes a lot of you. If your mask gives you security, by all means wear it. Just know it is a false sense of security and you shouldn’t shame anyone into partaking in such “conspiracies.”
If select politicians stopped enforcing it, no one would continue this nonsense. Don’t drink the kool-aid.
Ya this is pretty spot on….
HOW DID THEY CONVINCE THE US TO:
have no funerals
forcibly home-school while still taxing us for public education
stay in our homes
stop going to church
forfeit incomes and personal businesses
turn on our friends and neighbors with a phone number
hug our grandparents through plastic
thoroughly have us on the verge of civil war with each other.
ALL TO TURN AROUND AND TELL US THAT MOST OF IT IS NIXED AND COMPLETELY NEGATED, IF WE WANT TO:
kill even more people
loot businesses (many already on the brink of bankruptcy)
deface national monuments
destroy our cities
de-fund & disband our police
set everything on fire
…and all the while, we’re allegedly at tremendous risk of an oh-so-deadly virus that can be diagnosed without official testing, or with so-called testing being counted & reported dishonestly, and reported on death certificates even if we die by falling off a cliff…
…and even though it’s super “dangerous”, the things that actually keep us healthy, like:
health food stores
naturopathic health centers
outdoor activities and parks
are taken away. But:
fast food joints
were deemed “essential”…
And now our children are being forced to go back to schools that will feel like the prison result of a war zone, with a (guaranteed, just wait for it) mandated, un(properly) tested vaccine pushed by yours-truly, BILLionaire Gates — that’s already shown severe reactions in so-called “testers”.
How did America, the UK , Home of the Free become a fascist, communist regime — destroying lives and creating dependence so quickly?
Global totalitarianism over a so-called virus that’s becoming more & more questionable to more & more people.
WHAT WORLD ARE WE LIVING IN, AND HOW COME SO MANY ARE COMPLYING?
THINK ABOUT IT. THINK HARD. IT’S RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU.
WAKE UP AND THINK ABOUT IT.SHARE THIS
This post annoyed me for multiple reasons. In isolation, there are parts of this post I agree with but the overriding fear and war mongering bias is something I am strongly against.
Starting at the top, Facebook posts are well-know to be ‘fake news’. In this post, the writer states that they are OSHA certified. This ‘certification’ means this writer has “an official certificate of competency issued in accordance with the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 and represents the achievement of outcomes stipulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.” To be OSHA ‘certified’ you can train for 10 or 30 hours and receive a little card saying you did the training. My first issue (of many) with this is that OSHA certification doesn’t exist. You can be OSHA compliant but not OSHA certified, a big linguistic red flag for me. Next, the training is specific to a certain employment role, this could be construction or health care, we simply have no idea which field the writer trained in which makes their knowledge unreliable. Finally, a 10 hour or 30-hour course is not enough to be an expert in anything. You need years of study, not a weekend course to be an expert.
Next is the mask issue. I personally do not care if masks work 100% of the time or not, I will still wear one. Why? because a 1% chance of preventing someone else getting ill is a big enough reason for me to wear one. A mask isn’t a hindrance, it’s a possible safety measure. Get off your high-horse. Wether studies prove or disprove that masks are useful in preventing the spread of COVID, do not care. I’d rather ere on the side of caution. This way of thinking is exactly the motivation that convinced me to comment on the Facebook post.
My next issue before I work into the construction of this post is the disregard for how the world and economy work. Education first, yes parents were still taxed even though they homeschooled but all those teachers, education boards and resources we take for granted need to be paid for by someone. Even if you bought a book to help teach your child, that book would have been constructed, checked and examined by the education board to ensure your children are learning accurate information, and information that will be useful in their exams.
The final point is one I do agree with in terms of this post. The opening of fast-food restaurants before healthcare centres. I believe the reopening of fast-food restaurants should have been avoided, however, economically-wise this delay in opening such establishments would have been detrimental. In the UK, the fast-food industry is worth over £9 billion with numbers rising every year. That’s a lot of income and money people are willing to spend. We need that money to keep part of our world continuing. Many people might say “well f*uck the economy” but that’s unfortunately not how our world works. We have to bounce back after COVID or a larger, longer recession could envelope the UK.
After I commented on this post the sharer and I had an open conversation that I quite enjoyed. I didn’t feel threatened and believe he didn’t either. Instead, we simply proposed our ideas and beliefs. He included links that I watched and questioned and generally it was a good experience. That was until another commenter joined in, let’s call him Mr A. Mr A was the one who labelled me brainwashed and a media puppet. I generally found this amusing as opening the idea of media influenced brainwashing also presents the idea that both, neither or each of us is brainwashed. So how do we tell who is right and who is wrong in the current world we live in?
There are a few ways, you can collect information from multiple sources and pick out stand-alone facts and such, but this all takes a long time. Instead, knowing how reliable information is and what contributes to the label of reliable information is the way forward.
Let’s start at the very top — The Studies
Many people still expect scientific studies to be unbiased. This isn’t true. Funding, charity, result pressure and a handful of other inclusions can all skew a study to go in a certain direction. Even the number of participants can change the results.
Ever wondered why hair care studies only ever have a maximum of 200 participants? This small test collection of people allows the company to add a personal touch to the test, increasing brand bias and the testers internal need to be accepted by the company. So, when they say 130 out of 150 people agree this cream makes your hair smoother, you have to question: how they collected these participants and what language was used to communicate to them. Test size of over 500 people is too much for a study and marketing team to process, so we are almost always met with maximum groups of 200 participants.
This same methodology of skewing test results and data is frequently used throughout health-based scientific studies, with many other ways of changing the outcomes also being included. In simple terms, tests are only reliable if the examiners are unbiased, unfunded and organic. Try finding such a group, it’s almost impossible.
This is a big topic so get comfortable. In the UK we are all aware that certain news outlets link up with chosen political parties and organisations that match their values and provide income.
Though they might not appear so dangerous it’s the content producers such as writers and advertisers who are the most influential. These first-line responders are naturally-biased when producing content simply because they are human. Sure they have to take into account the company’s values and the opinions of their managers but the actual construction of an article is all them. Upbringing, family/friendship groups and education all impact one writer’s article almost subconsciously. Thus we are fed biased ideas.
The managers — These people are in charge of the writers and can decide which topics and company values should be platformed. The topics will be based on their specific audience’s interests but mixed in will be some perception-skewing as they aim to keep their audience thinking the same way the company does. This means excluding some topics such as opposite political party ideas and other such topics.
C-level — The people who hold titles such as CEO, MD and any other top-level title are often viewed as the criminals of the news. This is because they decide the values and organise the associated links to companies or political parties, which impact how news is portrayed to audiences. Though there is evidently a lot of corruption at the top level, not all choices are made with the idea of brainwashing audiences. The world isn’t a Batman movie, calm down.
My favourite area, social media. How many times have you heard about the algorithm taking likes and engagement away from influencers? Or how the algorithm is corrupt due to the big Zuc. In the world of social media, you get out what you put in. The algorithm works in a way that is meant to suit your interests. Though every so often there are changes, such as portrait videos being ranked higher than landscape videos due to the shift in device usage from desktop to mobile. Generally speaking, the algorithm works in a pretty simple way.
Say you’re a start-up business going social. You post a few pictures and articles with all the hashtags you want to associate your brand to and slowly build up a following. You can put money into ads to speed up this process if you want fast results, but generally speaking, you need to produce good content for any ad to work. Soon enough you start realising that certain topics resonate better with your audience than others. So you focus on these topics and adjust your brand to fit audience ideals. As you do this more and more you get higher amounts of engagement, as you give your audience the content they want. Engagement means people are commenting, clicking and liking your posts.
The algorithm will slowly begin to realise that your content has an audience and will start to display your posts across different news feeds outside of your target audience. The algorithm knows who will be interested in your posts due to a person’s social media habits.
If a person is an animal activist and likes interior decor the algorithm will document and show this type of content to this person. It knows this because we naturally follow, click on, and use the hashtags of certain topics we are interested in. These habits are recognised and then any similar content that fits into this audience type will also appear on a persons feed.
Issues start to arise when empty audiences are bought or an influencer slowly loses touch with their audience. Empty audiences are bought profiles that simply ad to a persons follower count. These empty profiles don’t have a real person behind the screen and so no engagement is seen. This reduces a person relevance according to the algorithm and a previously high ranking can be lost.
This algorithm also works in terms of news articles. If you click more on articles about COVID being a conspiracy then you will be fed similar articles. This fuels ideas and leads to posts, such as the one included above. You click on click-bate articles and you will get click-bate articles. I even did a click bate title for this blog — to save my soul though my title isn’t too far away from the contents in the article.
Our world is digital and we need to be aware of how this digital world is constructed concerning bias. Only by knowing this will accurate information gain momentum, filtering through the fear-mongering crap that fills our feeds.