Viral Discourse

Health Communication Network

UK/HK/China

An international group of researchers interested in language and communication issues related to the current public health crisis

Are discourse analysts ‘essential workers’?

When I was in the first grade the teacher asked us to stand up one by one and tell the class what our fathers did. This was 1965, and so questions about what our mothers did rarely came up. I watched all my classmates declare proudly that their fathers were postmen, or firemen, or construction…

How to make sense of communication and interaction in a pandemic

Since mid February 2020, when I first heard that the coronavirus pandemic had started to hit Northern Italy (where my parents are based) and was heading for to the UK (where I am based), I have perceived a sense of urgency in trying to make sense of the implications of this crisis for our social…

COVID-19 Mis/Disinformation on WhatsApp

In times of social distancing and lockdown as a result of the global COVID-19 outbreak, digital media have become all the more central to our everyday lives. They enable us to communicate and stay connected with others without spatial or temporal constraints (as I am doing through this blog post), to learn, and to entertain…

How to construct COVID-19 as a national security threat in public discourse?

COVID-19 is costing humankind dearly. It is without a doubt that the global pandemic has altered the way we live in terms of social norms, economic structures and political priorities, and some of these changes may stay with us for a long time. On 30th January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak…

Urban public signs during a pandemic

Walking down empty streets during the early days of the lockdown in London, I cannot help noticing the new signs in shop fronts and other public spaces. They are silent messengers that remind the passers-by that we are in a different, very special time and space. They tell the stories of their authors—how they respond…

#HateIsAVirus: Talking about COVID-19 ‘Hate’

A recent report by moonshot found that there has been a 300% rise in hashtags on Twitter that “encourage or incite violence against China and Chinese people”. The tech company analyzed 193,000 COVID-19 related tweets between Feb 21 and Apr 17, 2020, and generated the top 10 English hashtags that potentially encourage violence or ‘hate’.…

Face masks and cultural identity on YouTube

Unlike hand washing, about which there is unanimous agreement when it comes to fighting coronavirus, the practice of wearing face masks is still a contentious, emotional issue, evolving into a complex moral question about civic responsibility and altruism in many countries. The question of whether to mask or not is interpreted by some as evidence…

The pandemic of capitalism

Guest author Dr Christian Chun, University of Massachusetts, Boston In the past 30 years or so, our lives have become more endangered by the rapid and dire changes to our environment, dramatically evidenced in the recent wildfires around the world due to increasing global warming and ensuing droughts. It had been estimated by scientists that…

Is the war rhetoric around Covid-19 an Anglo-American thing?

Reading the news reporting on Covid-19 in the British media, one cannot but be struck by the use of metaphors of war. We are literally ‘bombarded’ with them every day. As soon as it became obvious that the new coronavirus poses a serious threat to the public health in Britain, newspapers across the country were…

What counts as evidence? Universal face mask use in the COVID-19 crisis

On April 3, 2020, the United States Centre for Disease Control (CDC) changed its advice on the universal use of face masks by citizens in public. While the CDC had been discouraging universal use of face masks, it now recommends it. On April 4, the World Health Organization (WHO) made a similar about-face. Around the world, there…

The veil of civilization and the semiotics of the mask

It seems that the world is coming around to the idea of ordinary people wearing face masks as a way of slowing the spread of the coronavirus. After months of dismissing their usefulness for the general public, and even extorting people to STOP BUYING MASKS!, on Tuesday (March 31) the US Surgeon General and the…


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