From taking to social media to speaking to the press, medical professionals are committed to ensuring people take coronavirus seriously.
2020 has seen tumultuous times — pandemic, civil unrest, and economic downturn. But, thankfully, folks from all walks of life have stepped up to help others this year.
Covid-19 conspiracy theories are everywhere, especially on social media. Hop on Facebook, and you’re likely to see plenty of people spreading false information about the pandemic and the virus.
Posts run the gamut and include everything from touting false cures, like those promoted by Trump, to the fake “dangers” of wearing a mask. There are even theories that Covid-19 is a fake disease, and it hasn’t claimed the lives of nearly 200,000 people here in the United States.
The false information and conspiracy theories have become so rampant that Facebook said it took down more than seven million posts on its own platform and the Facebook-owned platform Instagram at the beginning of August. In an effort to cut down on the rampant misinformation doing rounds on Facebook, the company is now adding a warning for users who share out-of-date or factually questionable stories on the social media site. Similarly, Twitter has begun labeling tweets that present false information as fact, even when those tweets come directly from President Trump.
While it may seem harmless to share some of the more outrageous conspiracy theories on social media, it turns out that people believe them. A recent study showed that nearly all of these conspiracy theories originated on social media. For medical professionals on the frontline of the battle to protect and save lives, this has become an incredibly difficult, and in some cases dangerous, information battle to fight.
Nurse Eric on the realities of battling Covid-19 in a hospital
Eric Sartori is a registered nurse at a major hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, and back in April, he put a post on Facebook that drew quite a bit of heat from a wide variety of voices. He posted about the impact that these social-media-ignited conspiracy theories were having on both him and his colleagues as they continued to work to keep people safe, healthy, and alive during the spread of this novel virus. His post went viral, and as of the most recent count, it has more than 22,000 likes, 6,300 comments, and 28,000 shares.
“I posted it because it became a bit more apparent how the confluence of different groups was creating this tsunami of misinformation,” Sartori says. “My Facebook page became a magnet for trying to speak very loudly and unapologetically in the vernacular of those spreading the misinformation, against what I thought was not just hurting me, but hurting my colleagues and the country.”
Eric Satori spoke out on Facebook against Covid-19 conspiracy theories.
As he is known on social media, Nurse Eric does not normally post about Covid-19 topics, nor his professional work. In fact, he started his YouTube channel as a way to track what he calls his “dad bod” project, which focuses on weight loss and healthy eating, and to document his backyard farm. He hasn’t posted to the channel in nearly a year, however, and says that given the current climate, he’s more focused on doing social justice work and educating people who believe the Covid-19 conspiracy theories and misinformation, as well as nursing.
“I have always been an optimist, but that’s changed since all these conspiracy theories have caught on,” Sartori says. “I think a lot of us from the medical community have felt a sense of trauma as a result of the community who have been against us in the simple things like wearing a mask and social distancing and being cautious about opening certain parts of the economy. We have seen such selfishness in the community, and you feel a little traumatized and numb when you spend shift after shift after shift putting corpses in body bags while everyone outside is just fighting for their ‘freedoms.’ It’s really disheartening.”
Sartori says that he doesn’t regret posting what he did on Facebook, but he has had some particularly aggressive commenters, and the post continues to get comments even though it’s months old. Sartori did not face any backlash from his employer, though he says that the hospital he works for did update their social media guidelines to prevent photos from being taken inside places like the ICU. Sartori does say that he keeps work and his social media life a bit more separate now.
“I woke up at 3:00 am concerned for my community and my coworkers. There was a tremendous disconnect between what I was seeing in reality in the ICU versus what I was seeing shared online,” Sartori says about his post. “I was in disbelief that people refused to believe what the medical experts, nurses, and doctors were saying. I woke up, and I felt like I needed to vent, and I put it out there as best I could. It’s not even very eloquent; it’s just an emotional rant. It was a moment of honesty and said in a way that allowed people to feel a little bit of a sense of power.”
Emily Landon on the frontline of stay-home orders
When Emily Landon got a call from the governor of Illinois, she couldn’t ignore it. Landon is the chief epidemiologist at the University of Chicago Medicine. When Illinois had to go to stay-at-home orders in March, Governor J.B. Pritzker asked her to speak following his announcement to help people understand why the orders were going into place, and how they would help protect the most vulnerable populations.
“The governor was looking for people to help make a case for a stay-home order,” Landon says. “Anyone in epidemiology knew that it was essential at the time. In the beginning, we didn’t have the right supplies, and we needed to cut back on people’s contact, and staying home was the only way to change the equation for how diseases like this one transmit through communities. And this one is like a freight train, one that would smash through our entire society if we didn’t take action. The only prudent action was to do a stay-home until we could get a handle on it and understand how to take care of the patient and get enough PPE. We were trying to order everyone off the tracks before the freight train hit them.”
Her appearance following the governor’s announcement garnered plenty of attention. She was plainspoken, direct, and relatable, as this story at the Washington Post notes, and people took her advice to heart — at least to some extent.
“My email address was publicly available on the university site, and after that speech, I got called by so many people. I got so many text messages. People told me that I was trending on Twitter, and I saw a lot of the comments. People were saying really horrible things and really kind things, and my email was blowing up with a whole lot of people telling me that I was the worst person on earth, that I was a communist and socialist,” Landon says.
She’s made multiple appearances with the governor since, in support of the actions that the state of Illinois has taken to try and get the pandemic under control. Illinois currently has more than 250,000 cases and nearly 8,500 deaths from Covid-19. Despite the Twitter trolls, Landon is unswayed in her mission to keep people safe.
“I recognize now, and even recognized early on, that a lot of these people who were so angry, were experiencing a lot of loss,” Landon says. “The restrictions and stay home-orders, and later everyone wearing masks and closing schools and not opening restaurants, really curtailed our activities for an extensive period of time. When people experience loss, they go through the Kubler-Ross stages of grief — denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and then acceptance. People don’t go through it in an orderly way. They flop back and forth. When they tell me that they think this is stupid and ask why am I such a communist, or Antifa, or whatever. I hear that, and I think you are feeling angry because of the loss you have. I am angry too.”
Landon doesn’t let the anger or stages of grief get to her though — even when it means keeping her son away from his favorite pastime — playing baseball.
Doctors, nurses, and the medical professionals who are both in the firing line of this pandemic and repeatedly face the realities of Covid-19 every day continue to speak the truth, backed up with real science.
“I went up against my son’s little league team and lost,” Landon says. “His dad lives in the suburbs, and he plays there. I argued that they needed to mandate masks, just like they mandate batting helmets. They said we thought about it and we aren’t going to do it, so my son couldn’t go back. I talked to the village president, and I tried talking to the media, they are still having games without masks or social distancing. I am sure everyone hates me in that little league. I don’t care. I am not really worried about that.”
Landon says that it’s been tough on her son and her family, but she still believes it’s the right thing to do.
“Everyone has the right to choose who can be their up-close and unmasked contact. What they don’t get to choose is whether or not they are going to be mine,” Landon says. “This idea that you have the freedom not to wear a mask and that wearing one is some kind of interruption of your freedom is insane. There is no more interruption to your freedom if you’re required to wear a mask, as there is to being required to wear pants.”
Standing up for science as truth
The battle against misinformation, conspiracy theories, and outright lies continues both on the front pages of our media outlets and on social media. Doctors, nurses, and the medical professionals who are both in the firing line of this pandemic and repeatedly face the realities of Covid-19 every day continue to speak the truth, backed up with real science. Both Landon and Sartori are on the frontline of the battle on a daily basis.
“I think the good people of the world don’t typically get loud,” Sartori says. “They are doing the salt-of-the-earth kind of stuff. They are teachers and social workers. When the internet becomes flooded with this maliciousness, whether its hate or misinformation, I feel like I need to push back against that. It almost has that nurse-type of tone to it. When you are a nurse, you have to settle things down, especially when your patient is trying to abuse you or being disrespectful. It’s like, ‘No, I am going to explain how things happen here. We’re here to help you, and we don’t have to be friends, but in this relationship, I am here because you have a problem, and we’re going to fix this, with science and medicine.’”
Landon echoes a similar sentiment. “You can’t just stand up for things when it’s convenient for you,” she says in reference to her recent tangle with the local little league. “Maybe what I did, and do, will help more people feel stronger in their stand on whatever platform they take because they will feel more supported in writing and talking about it. It is harder for some people to stand up for what they believe.”
“I am a medical ethicist,” Landon continues. “I have learned that people will stay in other phases of grief (anger, denial, and bargaining) for as long as they can because it feels better than depression. If you give people a reason to be in denial and anger, they will latch onto that because it’s human nature to stay there. The only way to help people is to say, ‘This is really hard for all of us,’ and that has to come from our leadership. The longer the American people are allowed to remain in denial, anger, and bargaining, the longer this will continue to be an issue.”