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How to sound authoritative about COVID-19 on Twitter

A short guide

March 16, 2020

4:24 PM

16 March 2020

4:24 PM

What strange creatures we 21st-century humans are. The less informed we are about a particular subject, the more we feel the need to pronounce on it with great authority. This is a well-observed internet phenomenon — nobody has to know anything; everybody can look stuff up.

When it comes to a global health pandemic, however, the desperation to sound wise starts to turn to feverish frenzy. In times of panic, bullshit grows, exponentially — check the graphs if you don’t believe me. Everywhere you look on social media now you’ll find amazing numbers of Google-enabled experts on epidemiology, virology, the history of plagues, and so on.

Many of these people spend most of their time on Twitter, yet somehow they have mastered vast amount of virus-related literature. The mind boggles. I’ve noticed various types of experts emerge in recent days, so I thought I’d compile a little guide. Here, without further ado, is how to tweet like you are a ….

1) Scientist

You don’t have to actually be a scientist to talk like one on the internet. Just claim to have looked at a recent epidemiological study, or at least link to one in a way that suggests you have, and claim the higher ground. The key here is to use a matter-of-fact, non-hysterical tone — that’s how medicinal experts talk! Let your ‘findings’ make people scream. It’s also important to lecture your readers for not understanding the science; if they did, they would be much more afraid.

Handy phrases:

‘There’s a lot of misinformation out there, so I thought…’

‘Sorry guys, I wish I had better news, but…’

‘If there is any good to come of this tragedy, it might be that people will start paying more attention to the actual science.’

Yeah, you may be a bit of dweeb, but if only people listened to you!

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2) Mathematician

Similar to scientist, only slightly more obnoxious. Again, you don’t need a degree in statistical modeling — quite the contrary. But you must be eager to establish that you see how important it is for the hoi polloi to understand maths and modeling. To patronize is to excel here. The social-media mathsplainer will always start his Twitter threat with a deceptively simple metaphor so that the dumb-dumbs out there can understand the idea of exponential growth. ‘Let’s say I  bake three loaves of bread, but every time I take my three loaves out of the oven, I find a fourth…’ Next, add some charts (loaves on axis y) which by the fifth or sixth tweet in the thread are completely impossible to understand. Advanced bluffers might want to try chucking in some algebraic symbols: nothing says I know what am talking about more than < or >, used judiciously.

Handy phrases:

‘I realize this is hard to keep up with, but that is sort of the point.’

‘You see why Einstein considered compound interest the Eighth Wonder of the World.’

You and Einstein see eye-to-eye on this stuff, of course.

3) Economist

Leave the health fear-mongering to others. You might want to throw in a few cautiously optimistic stats about the ‘variability of the death rate’, but your real concern is the panic-induced crashing of the global economy. Talk about 2008 in relation to 2020, while acknowledging differences, then say the word ‘fiscal’ a lot.

Handy phrases:

‘There’s no vaccine for hyperinflation.’

‘The real apocalypse could be the economic one.’

‘We’re about to see what happens when money dies.’

It’s not that you don’t care. You see the bigger picture. If only others could.

4) Historian

Refer to the spread of ancient diseases — the more obscure the better. It’s important to convey your appropriate sense of perspective: you aren’t that troubled, your long understanding of the human existence tells you that great plagues are just something that happens every know and then. Be too fatalist to be fazed by the fatalities.

Handy phrases:

‘The comparisons with the 1918 Flu only go so far. It’s actually more informative to look at something like the Antonine plague of 152 AD.’

‘This 21st century pestilence.’

‘I’m more interested in the re-emergence of the nation state in response…’

5) Concerned Gen-X son/daughter

Adopting this persona can cut across political divides and make you sound like a good person, which is what social media is all about. You know how serious the virus is — of course you do! — but your adorably stubborn pa/ma just won’t listen. Also, he or she doesn’t know what Twitter is, so there is no danger of you being called out for making stuff up. Say you just got off the phone with your 81-year-old mother and she thinks it’s all a big fuss about nothing, and sound desperate because you care.

Handy phrases:

‘Help! How can I explain to my otherwise totally wonderful father that…’

‘She/he went through war rationing…’

6) Conspiracy theory debunker

Those right-wing nutjobs are peddling theories about the virus being cooked up in an institute of virology in Wuhan. You know better, because you read Vox. Suggest any theory that Beijing covered up the spread of the disease may be racist and — worse — lead to a dangerous mistrust of the authorities when we need them most. You like authority, because you are one.

Handy phrases:

‘It’s actually possible to sequence the genome of the virus…’

‘This, from Vox, is useful…’

‘The real surprise is we didn’t have one of these crises sooner…’

7) Paleocon/Trad Catholic

Unlike those godless fools, you knew this day would come. Our decadent, narcissistic, porn-addled society is practically begging to be extinguished. You don’t want to sound gleeful — Pride is a sin, remember. But you do want to suggest a sort of weariness at the inevitability of it all. Find examples of people cavorting drunkenly, despite the corona fears, or that story about Pornhub offering its premium service free to quarantined Italians, and make some barbed remarks. Do not explicitly say that this is God’s retribution for all our sin — you aren’t crazy, either — but do imply it, then invoke an obscure saint and talk about the power of prayer.

Handy phrases:

‘Secular societies aren’t well equipped to cope with pandemics.’

‘We’re all doomed. St Boniface, pray for us.’

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