Inequalities in health communications infrastructure and resources; how COVID has been a bonanza for tech companies; the importance of people-centred communications; manifestations of “corona humour” in South Africa; and the role of health workers in television news reports in the United Kingdom.
These are among some of the topics covered in our third and final post from the #CroakeyREAD Twitter festival marking the winter solstice and exploring global perspectives on #CommunicatingCOVID.
Communication inequality, structural inequality, and COVID-19
Mohan Dutta, Massey University, Aeotaeroa New Zealand, @mjdutt
My chapter draws on my ethnographic fieldwork with precarious migrant workers and communities in poverty amidst COVID-19. The work builds on a culture-centered approach, seeking to create voice infrastructures with those at the margins.
The culture-centered approach conceptualizes communication inequality, the inequality in the distribution of communication resources as the basis for understanding health inequalities.
The inequality in the distribution of information resources and voice resources mirrors the inequality in access to preventive and healthcare resources.
For instance, amidst the outbreak in dormitories housing low-wage migrant workers in Singapore, practicing physical distancing became impossible because of crowded living conditions. In many instances, almost twenty workers were living in a room.
The #COVID19 lockdown in Singapore, called the circuit breaker, dictated that workers stay within the room. This meant more workers stayed in the rooms, increasing the risks of exposure.
This also resulted in greater demand on the toilets, resulting in unhygienic conditions.
The greater risks of #COVID19 infections experienced by the low-wage migrant workers in Singapore need to be situated amidst the erasure of communicative infrastructures for low-wage migrant workers in Singapore.
Worker organizing and collectivization are criminalized in Singapore. Migrant workers are imprisoned and/or deported if they speak up.
These communicative inequalities translated into the absence of registers for articulating worker health and worker rights, leading the poor housing conditions to perpetuate.
In the earlier work of @CAREMasseyNZ , when these conditions have been highlighted, the authoritarian state has responded with various strategies of silencing.This case study highlights the empirical limits of a behavioral ideology embedded in the whiteness of hegemonic health communication. Health behaviors are constituted by structures.
The work of health communication at the margins therefore is in building infrastructures for collectivization and organizing that seek to transform the unhealthy structures.
Amidst the large scale neoliberal attacks on worker organizing, and the hyper-precarity of migrant labour, how do we build registers for organizing that demand the fundamental labour right to health?
In authoritarian regimes where cultural essentialisms such as “Asian values” are deployed as instruments of state propaganda to attack worker organizing, culture-centered health communication turns toward culturally situated logics of resistance.
The voices of hyper-precarious migrant workers witnessing the poor working conditions and conditions of living foreground cultural logics of worker organizing and collectivization that articulate universal values of labour rights.
Culture-centered health communication proposes we work toward co-creating voice infrastructures at the margins, which become the basis for organizing to transform neoliberal economies, securing health as a human right.
Monitoring the R-Citizen in the time of COVID-19
John Flood & Monique Lewis, Griffith University, @JohnAFlood, @DrMoniqueLewis
Hello I’m John Flood, Professor of Law and Society at Griffith University. I am intrigued by the role of technology in our society – how we give away data and what we get for it in return. This is relevant for tracing apps.
@DrMoniqueLewis and I examined how the concepts of trust, communication andd support are so important in dealing with apps for tracing and the like. We compared the UK with Taiwan.
Taiwan used a simple system of contacting people, one they learned from SARS earlier in the 21st century.
As well as finding out who might be infectious the government gave financial support for those quarantined.
The UK in a rather fatuous turn decided to outsource its contact tracing to private consultants with the result it spent over £37bn ($74bn Aus) for a system that reached very few people.
Moreover for some reason the UK government decided to centralise the process so much it ignored local governments who had terrific knowledge of their localities. Utterly stupid.
Added to which it gave no or very little financial support for those to be quarantined. The result people lied about their conditions because they could not miss work and receive no pay.
Hence the UK ended up with an enormous number of cases, a huge number of deaths, all while boasting it had world beating systems in place. Yes world beating death numbers.
The trust issue was magnified by the prime minister’s chief of staff, Dominic Cummings, breaking the rules on travel during lockdown.
He took his family – both he and his wife were infected – on a 500km trip through England then on a further trip to “test his eyesight”. His explanation offered no apology only justification.
The ensuing uproar said to people there was one rule for the elites and others for hoi polloi. It became very difficult to impose strict lockdown rules afterwards. Government communication was not believed.
Taiwan on the other hand opened up direct communication with people asking them to devise tech solutions on track and trace through the government website.
On the whole track and trace apps haven’t been an enormous success. The privacy issues with them are legion.
Many of the apps have facilities for passing data to Google and Facebook even if you don’t use either.
Systems are far too leaky as people’s private data is being harvested for commercial gain.
It’s interesting that the UK government has chosen this time to pass all NHS patient data (the biggest data set in the world) to private companies to analyse (read more on this here).
The lines of communication for people to take informed decisions on this are well below the waterline. So much so that after much voicing of concerns the government has introduced a hiatus on this
I think the biggest concern now is that we are datafied people “R citizens” rather than human agents. (R citizens is an artificial construct that emerges from the datafication of people inside disease vectors).
COVID has been a golden opportunity for companies like Palantir to harvest data from governments and other organisations on a Google-like basis.
Give us your data and we’ll analyse for you and give you useful results, but we will keep the data and use for our own clients to generate profits.
Not only has COVID undermined people’s confidence in government, it has enriched big tech enormously (read more here).
It’s highly likely Zuboff’s idea of surveillance capitalism is reaching its apogee because of COVID. Is there an antithesis? I’m not sure.
COVID-19 communication for local South African contexts
Eliza Govender, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, @ElizaGovender
As I tweet today, South Africa is currently experiencing our third wave and we are in level 3 lockdown again, with over 1.8 million infections to date, with over 58,700 deaths and 13,155 new infections today.
We remember those who have lost loved ones and those who are fighting for their lives in hospitals throughout the country. Critically engaging with the need to mobilize our role as communication scholars and journalists has never been more urgent than NOW.
My chapter addresses the limited community voices at the onset COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa and the need to rethink pandemic responses. It calls for revisiting COVID-19 as an interdisciplinary pandemic.
My chapter calls for communication that addresses structural inequalities and promotes ‘people-centred communication’. Pandemic communication must allow listening with responsibility and accountability, it calls for ethically listening to community voices.
My chapter specifically challenges the physical distancing as one of the key non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) for South African communities during the initial phase of the national lockdown.
In collecting data and conducting research with communities, physical distancing was not a message most people could adhere to during a lockdown.
Some considerations as we think about what physical distancing actually means from research: “Social distancing is a privilege – and one that not all countries, are able to afford.
From the research: “living in dire social and economic conditions makes it difficult for people in black townships to observe global ‘gold standard’ measures aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as social distancing and isolation. People living in South Africa’s black townships face the choice of staying at home and starving or going out to work and risk being infected.”
I explore some of these examples of community voices and responses to issues of physical distancing, specifically highlighting the urgency to give communities voices to deconstruct and reconstruct their own health imperatives in a dominated public health world.
My point of departure in this chapter, is highlighting that most health communication approaches stringently adopt a public health or health promotion strategy that are often devoid of the communicative practices or community voices.
My adoption of health communication is through the lens of development communication which ‘invokes new ways of harnessing media and localised cultural frames in promoting health initiatives and community development.
The powerful role of communities and understanding their lived experiences must remain our evidence-based reality to advance COVID-19 prevention.
Relinquishing fundamental dialogical and communicative practices for communities in a pandemic response impacts the uptake of COVID-19 preventative measures and behaviour change.
With limited vaccine access, our non-pharmaceutical interventions remain a priority but community voices in our pandemic responses is fundamental to advance localise our response.
What does physical distancing mean for a student who has returned home in lockdown to a crowded space with 10 family members?
COVID-19 has reminded us to think about health in an interdisciplinary way, and to create new spaces for engagement, dialogue and digital conversations
South Africa laughs in the face of coronavirus
Sarah Gibson, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, @ProfSarahGibson
Greetings from Durban. I work in the Centre for Communication, Media and Society at The College of Humanities at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.
My research is normally on Cultural Studies and Mobilities, so I was thrilled to be included in such an interdisciplinary book.
My chapter explores the cultural significance of wearing face masks in South Africa, medically, politically, and humorously.
I was interested in the role of social media and participatory culture in spreading health-communication messages and humorous memes in order to stop the spread of the virus.
I looked at how this global pandemic has seen a resurgence of the nation-building project in South Africa – seen in watching the televised live presidential addresses, the political rhetoric of the speeches, and circulation of memetic media.
As @ElizaGovender has mentioned, South Africa has recently entered our third wave and we have been moved to Level 3 Lockdown. We had our latest ‘family meeting’ with President Ramaphosa on the evening of 15 June to update the nation.
It was the President’s Address broadcast on 23 April 2020, as he announced the end of (Level 5) lockdown, where he explained the wearing of face masks was now compulsory to all South Africans leaving home.
What happened at the end of the address, where the President struggled for several minutes to correctly position his face mask, led to to the circulation on humorous memes on social media.
Humour was a way of ordinary South Africans creatively responding to the presidential address, the pandemic, and the compulsory non-pharmaceutical interventions being introduced. This has been termed ‘corona humour’.
Through the use of presidential addresses, the rhetoric of nationhood, and the humorous memes on Twitter, a specific cultural and creative response to COVID-19 was noted in South Africa.
Humour and laughter were a way of creating social intimacy and solidarity even at times of physical/social distancing, through the participatory cultures of social media.
Reporting from the front line: the role of health workers in television news reports
Maria Kyrikiadou, Cardiff University, UK, @Maria_Kyriakid, @stephen_cushion, @mari_mo
Our chapter in Communicating Covid, co-authored with @mari_morani, @sniksw & @Stephen_Cushion, is part of our @ahrcpress project on #CounteringDisinformation – you can find more info about it here: https://counteringdisinformation.com.
Our chapter ‘Reporting from the frontline’ explores two interrelated questions: (a) how was the work of health workers, especially from Intensive Care Units (ICUs), reported on UK television news? And (b) what role did this reporting play in how the public understood COVID-19?
A bit of context: as the UK government was late in implementing a lockdown only on March 23 2020, the National Health Service (NHS) was overwhelmed during the first months of the pandemic.
The BBC’s @BBCFergusWalsh, followed by other broadcasters, reported from inside ICUs, focusing on the experiences of care workers. Reporters said they wanted to focus on the raw reality of COVID-19: Our study focused on the significance of this reporting.
We found 32 relevant reports in this period, which were either a news reporter package on location, mostly inside ICUs, or video diaries shot by health workers themselves. Both types act as witnessing texts, illustrating the hardships of NHS workers.
We also looked into audience responses to gathered through an online diary study with 200 participants, conducted between 16 April – 27 May 2020. Participants completed two diary entries a week, discussing media consumption, the pandemic, as well as broader reflections about news
We found that the majority of participants appreciated reporting from ICUs because (a) they trusted health workers as expert sources more than other sources and appreciated them as alternatives to the official government updates and (b) they thought the emotional impact of reports from ICUs was necessary for people to realise the gravity of the virus and abide to lockdown measures.
However, a number of participants expressed concerns for the ethics of having cameras in a room of patients and the space and time occupied by the reporters. Most importantly, some found the images too unsettling and overwhelming, which led to news avoidance.
We concluded that experiences of health workers were necessary for conveying the health messages of social distancing and constructing relations of solidarity that were necessary to abide to the lockdown measures.
It seems, however, that instead of reports from inside the ICUs, video diaries and the inclusion of more patients’ and survivors’ voices would be more effective, while less emotionally taxing for audiences.
What have we learnt?
Some takeaways from the discussions from Croakey editor Marie McInerney:
For Croakey’s Melissa Sweet, the overall takeaways are the importance of efforts to address communication inequalities as structural issues, as well as the leadership of communities.
As well as the excellent quotes highlighted above, a few more:
Dr Monique Lewis: “We can’t ignore the importance of making meaningful and tireless efforts to improve communication knowledge and understanding in the pandemic context. This requires governments to value the role played by professional communicators and journalists.”
Associate Professor Megan Williams: “Supporting innovation and development in non-profit journalism sector has such potential for communities’ rights to information and participation in democratic processes.”
Associate Professor Mark Davis: “We have narrative ethics and narrative medicine. Can we have narrative public health? Can narrative public health bring to pandemic life means for reflection and collectivisation that are vital for existence?”
Professor Kate Ellis: “With inadequate official communications, people with disability attempted to fill in the gaps in health communications, representing their experiences and identifying and critiquing systemic barriers.”
Professor Mohan Dutta spoke about the importance of “voice infrastructure for those at the margins” and said: “The culture-centered approach conceptualises communication inequality, the inequality in the distribution of communication resources as the basis for understanding health inequalities.”
Professor Eliza Governder: “My chapter calls for communication that addresses structural inequalities and promotes ‘people-centred communication’. Pandemic communication must allow listening with responsibility and accountability, it calls for ethically listening to community voices. The powerful role of communities and understanding their lived experiences must remain our evidence-based reality to advance COVID-19 prevention.”
And, there is so much more to reflect upon as well, not least the need for similar in-depth investigations about communications, COVID and vaccination.
Post Script: Findings from the UK
Professor Chris Hatton, an academic in the Department of Social Care and Social Work at Manchester Metropolitan University, joined the Twitter festival to share some research findings about the pandemic’s impact on people with learning disabilities in the UK. The results also highlight the importance of television as a source of pandemic information for this group.Wave 1 results here (from interviews/survey Dec 20 – Feb 21), inc full report, highlights and easy read highlights Great easy read blog from @BourletGaryLDE here on the Wave 1 findings.
Wave 2 results coming very soon.
Seven out of 10 people we interviewed said they had found it easy to find good info about COVID-19. Over eight out of 10 people said they knew the COVID-19 rules where they lived. People were most likely to get COVID-19 info from TV. One one in 10 people got info from government websites.
More than eight out of 10 people said that they would take the COVID-19 vaccine if it was offered to them (this was in Dec 20 – Jan 21, when vaccines were fairly new).
Nine out of 10 people we interviewed used the Internet at home; family members and paid carers we surveyed reported seven out of 10 people (who could not take part in an interview) used the Internet at home. People aged 45+ much less likely than younger people to use the internet.
Two out of 10 people we interviewed said that someone had tried to scam them/cheat them out of money by phone or online in the four weeks before the interview.
Lots more from Wave 1 in the docs shared earlier in the thread. More detail on info, vaccines, and internet use (among other things) coming soon from Wave 2.
The #CommunicatingCOVID conversations involved 167 Twitter accounts who collectively sent 1,328 tweets (as of 23 June), creating almost 13.5 million Twitter impressions, according to Symplur analytics. Read the Twitter transcript here.
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