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Panic is a click away: Don’t take the click bait

Panic is Click Away: Don’t take the click bait

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said: “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”

Those words bear repeating this week during the continually updated and truly developing story that is the COVID-19 outbreak. 83,000 people out of a planet of 8 billion have been infected.  Around 3000 have died. Annually, over 650,000 people die from the flu. None of this is “good” but it is reason to have a bit of perspective. In 1976, Ebola (arguably the most frightening word in the lexicon of disease) broke out in 9 countries and killed 13,500 people with a mortality rate of 40%. Basically – you get Ebola, you have a 50/50 chance of surviving. In 2002, SARS broke out in 29 countries and killed 775 people with a mortality rate of 9.6 % — better odds than Ebola, for sure. In 2012, MERS broke out in 28 countries resulting in 858 deaths, with a mortality rate of 34%. All of these, we as a country – and a world –survived. We integrated the information into our lives, and we learned from the experience.

What is the difference now with COVID-19? The answer is simple: panic is a click away. The other diseases had the capability to infect. Today, the Internet and social media infect our every waking thought (“Ping! Ping! Panic!”)

We are not medical experts, although we have worked with and represented many. Our job is simple: communicate the truth – simply, effectively and hopefully in a way that leads to greater education and social responsibility. No one is happy about COVID-19, but also, what is already becoming clear is this: for the vast, vast majority of the world’s population, it will be something to deal with, not to die from.  

It has been said that the stock market thrives on fear and greed. At the moment, fear is taking its toll, but greed will come back in as investors see opportunities to buy. That’s not being cynical, that’s observing history. Even now, as new cases of COVID-19 are discovered in Europe, the rate of infection in China – where the disease evidently originated – is tapering off. 

So, what is our point? Just this: don’t rely on the stock-ticker speed of your Facebook page or your Twitter feed to inform your choices. Rely on the advice of proven experts who – internationally – have all been saying the same thing: take reasonable precautions. Don’t cancel your trips to Italy. Wash your hands. Cover your coughs and sneezes. Use towels to open doors and turn off water faucets in public restrooms. It’s the same advice medical professionals have been giving for a hundred years.

This week, our clients have (rightly) turned to us for advice and counsel, and our counsel has been this: stay informed, but don’t panic and have some perspective. 

A few days ago, using the power of social media, the Centers for Disease Control released an animated GIF that went viral, based on the now iconic phrase “Keep Calm.” Its message: “Keep Calm and Wash Your Hands.” All of us know how to wash our hands (although, a reminder might be advised for the next few weeks) but we could all use a reminder in the first adage: “Keep Calm.”

There is every indication that we will get through this. And, we will get through it better, wiser and better prepared by not clicking on every 100 point font online.

David Perry & Janis MacKenzie

David Perry & Janis MacKenzie are longtime crisis communications specialists in San Francisco with more than 70 years experience between them.