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Pandemus: Free(dom) of covid speech

By February 26, 2021No Comments

I have written and rewritten this piece about a million times by now. I was supposed to write something about the pandemic. But what about the pandemic? Every time I finish writing something about it, my newsfeed no longer looks the way it did when I started. New information, new opinions. I change my mind about all of it and start again.

You’d think there would be plenty to write about, given the number of news updates, but every news update comes with a whirlwind of opinions, reactions and emotions. People complain about it at the cash register, or to the passers-by they meet on their daily walk and only stop because they have to be back inside by 9. That’s when they start tweeting, vlogging, making Instagram stories about it. They write columns, analyses, criticisms… Is there anything left for me to add?

Do I even want to add something? Just the other day, I was scrolling through Instagram ignoring my self-set time limit for the third time that day (come on, we all do it) and got caught in a spiral of angry lockdown-posts by celebrities quarantining in houses bigger than the UvA campus. One post specifically caught my attention. A Dutch supermodel was under attack because she had posted something about the vaccines, questioning the safety and the research process of the vaccines. This of course in the form of so-called ‘critical questions’ (i.e., a way of spreading bullshit without having to give up your role of the innocent victim, a very popular phenomena among angry celebrities and some angry populist politicians, I’ve noticed). Her supposedly innocent ‘what did I do wrong, I was just asking some critical questions, I can’t say anything these days’-stance got me thinking. 

Is someone doing anything wrong when they are just exercising their freedom of speech on social media? Well, yes, I think so. The thing about freedom, as we all know, is that it comes with great responsibility. We usually focus this responsibility on the side of the consumer: check your sources, don’t believe everything you read online, and so on. But what about the other way around? Shouldn’t we all take a bit more responsibility in exercising that freedom of speech? Taking responsibility by realizing the impact of our ‘critical questions’, asking ourselves whether we are the right people to ask those questions, and if we are, do we actually add something valuable to the discussion? Or do we just add another sound, turning everything into noise and making it impossible for the relevant voices to be heard?

Maybe I am just being part of the problem by writing this. So, I’ll just be back when I can write the one story I actually want to write about the pandemic. It starts with “once upon a time…”. It has an end. 

“The end.”

I have written and rewritten this piece about a million times by now. I was supposed to write something about the pandemic. But what about the pandemic? Every time I finish writing something about it, my newsfeed no longer looks the way it did when I started. New information, new opinions. I change my mind about all of it and start again.

You’d think there would be plenty to write about, given the number of news updates, but every news update comes with a whirlwind of opinions, reactions and emotions. People complain about it at the cash register, or to the passers-by they meet on their daily walk and only stop because they have to be back inside by 9. That’s when they start tweeting, vlogging, making Instagram stories about it. They write columns, analyses, criticisms… Is there anything left for me to add?

Do I even want to add something? Just the other day, I was scrolling through Instagram ignoring my self-set time limit for the third time that day (come on, we all do it) and got caught in a spiral of angry lockdown-posts by celebrities quarantining in houses bigger than the UvA campus. One post specifically caught my attention. A Dutch supermodel was under attack because she had posted something about the vaccines, questioning the safety and the research process of the vaccines. This of course in the form of so-called ‘critical questions’ (i.e., a way of spreading bullshit without having to give up your role of the innocent victim, a very popular phenomena among angry celebrities and some angry populist politicians, I’ve noticed). Her supposedly innocent ‘what did I do wrong, I was just asking some critical questions, I can’t say anything these days’-stance got me thinking. 

Is someone doing anything wrong when they are just exercising their freedom of speech on social media? Well, yes, I think so. The thing about freedom, as we all know, is that it comes with great responsibility. We usually focus this responsibility on the side of the consumer: check your sources, don’t believe everything you read online, and so on. But what about the other way around? Shouldn’t we all take a bit more responsibility in exercising that freedom of speech? Taking responsibility by realizing the impact of our ‘critical questions’, asking ourselves whether we are the right people to ask those questions, and if we are, do we actually add something valuable to the discussion? Or do we just add another sound, turning everything into noise and making it impossible for the relevant voices to be heard?

Maybe I am just being part of the problem by writing this. So, I’ll just be back when I can write the one story I actually want to write about the pandemic. It starts with “once upon a time…”. It has an end. 

“The end.”

Quinty Mars

Author Quinty Mars

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