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Friends, let's talk about fear.

Some fear is productive. It keeps us alive.

Some fear is destructive. It keeps us terrified, paralyzed, &, most of all, obedient.

Which is which? How can we tell the difference?

A tale of two threads about the #coronavirus.
Yesterday—the day before six primary elections here in the US of A, don't for a minute forget—two threads went viral.

This is the first one:

and this is the second:

You've probably already seen them both. Or something like them.
They seem similar. But if you read closely, you'll spot some key differences.

And it's in those differences, my friends, that we can see just how fear & misinformation are spread.

Even by smart, well-meaning people like @CherylStrayed & @PattyArquette—people we trust.
Especially by them, in fact.

Because it's the nature of fear-mongering that it takes our kindness, our desire to help, & weaponizes it.

This solidarity—the urge to spread life-saving information, to help others—is our greatest strength.

And also our great Achilles heel.
Remember those email chain letters that used to scream at you that if you don't forward this IMMEDIATELY, people might DIE, because THIS INFORMATION COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE?!?!? So FORWARD IMMEDIATELY TO 20 PEOPLE!!!! YOU COULD SAVE A LIFE!!!!!

Keep those in mind.
The first thread, by Silvia Stringhini, links to a blog post by an ICU physician in Bergamo, Dr. Daniele Macchini. I urge you to read his post in its entirety. It is alarming but also highly credible.

Here's that link again:
Macchini's post is alarming because it chronicles a massive failure of the Italian healthcare system. Hospitals are overwhelmed. Beds are scarce. Pneumonia is rampant. But several municipalities have failed to declare a red zone, which seems to be why he's writing this post.
He urges us to avoid a false sense of security, &—this is key—offers some exquisitely concrete advice on how to avoid spreading the virus.

1. Don't go panic shopping—that will only increase exposure. (Seen the long lines of people clustered next to each other? That.)
2. Bring groceries to your elderly relatives. Tell them to stay indoors. (Ask your neighbors if they need anything!)

3. Don't hoard ffp2 or ffp3 (aka N95 & N100) masks. Healthcare workers need those.

4. Don't go to the theater, gym, museums. Stick to essential outings.
This is concrete advice. Stuff we can do. And he's disseminating it for a specific purpose—to get two municipalities to take the spread of the virus more seriously & declare emergency measures.

Now for the second thread.
This thread appeared about 16 hours after the first one. Remember that fact.

We're immediately told that it's from "a well respected friend and intensivist/A&E consultant who is currently in northern Italy."

Anonymous. Well respected.

Let's take a closer look, shall we?
This anonymous-but-respected-friend feels "the pressure to give you a quick personal update about what is happening in Italy, and also give some quick direct advice about what you should do."

1. "well respected"—appeal to authority (well respected doctor! it must be true!)
2. "I feel the pressure" = appeal to emotion (it's urgent! he FEELS it!)

3 ."a quick personal update about what is happening in Italy"—appeal to the desperate desire for inside info that we have in a crisis. It's a form of FOMO: what if this information could SAVE MY LIFE????
You know those Facebook posts that promise to give you the inside story, WHAT THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA WONT TELL YOU!!!!

That's the part of your brain this line is appealing to. This thread is not as crude as those. But that just makes it all the more effective.
3. Finally, he promises you "some quick direct advice about what you should do." = news you can use.

If you read the whole thread, you'll notice that our anonymous, well-respected friend never gets to that part. He never offers any advice—quick, direct, or otherwise.

Only fear.
Doctors are crying. People are dying. It starts off small. Just a few cases. Then it skyrockets.

"We have seen the same pattern in different areas a week apart, and there is no reason that in a few weeks it won’t be the same everywhere"

Do you see the glaring red flag here?
"there is no reason that in a few weeks it won’t be the same everywhere"

This is where we cross the line. Let's take a closer look at this phrase:

1. Everywhere? Really? What about countries like Iceland, that are handling this pandemic well?
2. "there is no reason"—this implies that there's no way to stop the pandemic. When actually there is: our governments taking it seriously. And implementing concrete, comprehensive public health measures.

Like testing. And social distancing. And paid sick leave. And testing.
Doctors speak in specifics. Not wild generalizations (everywhere) or absolutes (no reason).

Note the lack of specifics in this thread.

Note all the misspellings.


What does that remind you of?
Yes, those email chain letters.

Note all the highly charged, emotional, panic-producing words:

emotionally overwhelmed
mortality spikes
"My friends call me in tears because they see people dying in front of them and they con only offer some oxygen"
Note the hortatory, vaguely threatening tone—"you think you’ll be safe, We have seen it, you won’t be if you don’t take it seriously"

Remember those chain letters? The scary Facebook posts?

The language in this thread, the use of threatening, terrifying scenarios—similar.
One last, tiny detail: guy unrolled his own thread. Who does that? Someone who's trying to go viral.

My theory? I think someone saw the Stringhini thread—the much earlier one, with a named doctor, & concrete tips—and decided to craft an amped-up version that would go viral.
Why does this matter? Why not just retweet them both—you know, just to be on the safe side?

Because fear matters. Fear does lasting harm. It spurs people to bad decisions that make the pandemic worse—like the panic shopping & mask-hoarding the Italian doctor warned us about.
Fear also distracts us from concrete solutions. Our government is failing us in a historic way that we are only just beginning to grasp. We need to keep our heads, folks. Because the people in charge right now are not.
Fear erodes our social fabric. It makes us more likely to look out for ourselves, & only ourselves—& less likely to do things like take groceries to an elderly neighbor, as the Italian doctor recommended.

We cannot survive like that. We need everyone.
Fear also suppresses voter turnout. That's no joke. Remember how people keep telling us we're going to see unprecedented levels of voter suppression, disinformation, & sock puppeting in this election? Don't forget that as you're searching for information about the virus.
Our current rulers are already looking to blame the virus on foreigners. Here's some historical context for that, in this must-read thread from @TheRaDR, whom you should follow immediately if you're not already:
How are we going to handle voting with social distancing measures? Civic participation? How are we going to make sure that people without first-class internet connections, for example—which is a lot of fucking people, by the way—are included? I see very little discussion of this.
I do know this: as this pandemic spreads, we must love one another or die.

We should be afraid. We should be angry. But we should also be actively seeking solutions.

Be wary of messaging that makes you afraid. That sounds threatening.
That is long on fear-filled language & short on facts & specifics & things you can do.

Instead, look for the helpers, like Mr. Rogers used to say.

Look for things you can do to protect others. To stay connected.
Oh, & finally—if you see anything dubious, or that sets off your bullshit detectors, check it with a trusted debunker! The old standby is @snopes. But I also recommend @brooklynmarie of @erumors, both of which you should follow. I follow all of them.
And, of course, trust your gut. Use the tools I've tried to outline here.

And, finally—


[all caps totally in sarcasm]
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