Original Harm at an Unprecedented Rate

The virus that leads to new justifications for ostracism and xenophobia.

Posted Mar 18, 2020

Miguel Á. Padriñán/Pixabay
Source: Miguel Á. Padriñán/Pixabay

It may be safe to assume that everyone who isn’t living under a rock is sufficiently disoriented and/or worried right now. n-COVID-19 is at the center of a global pandemic that has halted travel, business, parties, and nearly all social activities the world over. The virus has deleterious consequences for certain populations, like the elderly and immunocompromised, and has impacted the world’s collective mental health. 

COVID-19 has generated a great deal of original harm too, and no, this is not an attribution of conscious intent to a virus. Rather, it is an attempt to lend structure to new ways of justifying discrimination, xenophobia, and ostracism within a dark creative framework. This is closely related to the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories related to the novel coronavirus.

From drinking cow urine to snorting cocaine to spreading goose fat on your chest, the recommended “solutions” to extinguish the virus do not lack imagination. They do, however, lack any scientific backing and are based on hearsay. Similarly, conspiracy theories regarding the origin and spread of COVID-19 range from it being a Chinese bioweapon to a US bioweapon to a population-control scheme hatched by the Pirbright Institute and Bill Gates(?!). 

Believing unfounded claims and rumors concerning the virus and spreading them is akin to forwarding a really good meme you found online. Generating the misinformation surrounding the virus is like coming up with the punchline for the meme: It is a creative act, but unlike most memes, it is clearly dangerous and destructive. COVID-19 has given agents of chaos new avenues to create misinformation and all it may take is a few forwards to make the damage spiral out of control.

That xenophobia and racism follow the spread of a virus that originated in an Asian country is not unexpected. However, the justifications for behaving in a hostile manner toward other people can stem from false beliefs related to such misinformation. If an individual believes that COVID-19 originated from bat soup and a video of an Asian person supposedly consuming bat soup goes viral, they may not hesitate to put two and two together and generate an erroneous five. All based on incorrect and incomplete information.

Gordon Johnson/Pixabay
Source: Gordon Johnson/Pixabay

The social fabric of entire communities can be destroyed through clever misinformation. It can generate mistrust, hatred, and animosity through baseless reasons and rumors that were never thought of before. And the generators of such content may not even realize the implications of their actions, which is not to say that they are not responsible for the ensuing damage. However, in today’s information age, tracing a nugget of misinformation back to the source is often extremely complicated, if not impossible. 

So what can we do to combat this original harm? Nullify it by engaging in (original) benefit, of course. For every article/thread/post/video/comment you find on the internet that is obviously COVID-19 misinformation, forward twice the number of public health videos related to handwashing, sanitation, hygiene, or even just hamsters following these guidelines (thank you, John Oliver, for highlighting these videos on TikTok). 

And once you’re done reading this entry, please wash your hands and disinfect the device you were reading this on.

Stay healthy; stay safe.


Serhan, Y. & McLaughlin, T. (2020, March 13). The other problematic outbreak. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2020/03/coronavirus-covid19-xenophobia-racism/607816/