Polarization in times of the Corona crisis

The outbreak of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, or COVID-19, at the beginning of 2020 quickly spread around the world. As a result, politics, economy and population were faced with a global crisis for which a solution has to be found. Due to this uncertainty and the fear of the supposedly fatal outcome of the virus infection, there was widespread agreement that measures and rules had to be introduced to protect against the infection with SARS-CoV-2. However, very soon after the introduction of the measures, voices were raised that considered these measures as a restriction, paternalism and a certain feeling of powerlessness spread. This feeling turned into protests and demonstrations against the measures to protect against SARS-CoV-2, thus creating two camps: those who came to terms with the situation and considered the measures to be useful and those who rejected the measures and wanted to use them for their political purposes and spread conspiracy theories[1].

The problem of conspiracy theories and false information started with the fact that it took a long time to find out where the virus came from. This led to the claim that the virus came from a laboratory, that the virus had been bred and accidentally released. But it became problematic because of the fact that also politicians took up the idea and gave China the responsibility for the outbreak of the virus. Thus, the breeding ground for further theories was formed[2]. This breeding ground was finally used by all groups who saw their chance to make their cause known. Thus, right-wing groups and opponents of vaccination took the chance to propagate the measures as an attack on democracy. The basic denominator of all groups is the rejection of the government and the lack of trust in the media. Especially in the media, some see the media as an instrument of the state that only disseminates targeted information to influence the population. In principle this is also correct only with the difference that the media try to spread as exact and correct information as possible and to reduce the misinformation in the population[3]. But besides the big groups that actively oppose the system there are also ordinary citizens who misunderstand the information that is spread and consider the conspiracy theories as true. And therefore reject the measures.

All this is a rather modern example of a well-known problem, namely the problem of polarization. Two particular aspects related to this phenomenon are biased assimilation and attitude polarization[4]. These two theories explain very well how polarization can happen through information. Biased assimilation means that if you provide people with information for and against a thing or event, they will absorb the information and then spread it themselves according to their basic attitudes. Thus, in relation to the coronavirus, if I am generally dissatisfied with the situation, I react negatively to measures and information and reject them. If I do not trust the state, am disappointed, or have suffered economically, I am also more prone to conspiracy theories[5]. The second effect is attitude polarization, which is the effect of people changing their mind completely after receiving information. So, their basic attitude is re-polarized and they get a new view of the world[6]. This can also be transferred to the coronavirus. People who are always satisfied with their work may lose their jobs and become unemployed, which changes their view of the world and they are dissatisfied with the measures of the state[7]. So it shows very well that the polarization in society is not by chance. It is based on the basic attitude of the population that already exists, but it also shows that these basic attitudes and patterns of action can also be changed by providing information. In my opinion the best option is to do what is already being done – to spread as much correct information as possible through all serious information channels. And also to focus on the successes which result from this. Like for example that we have only 9.100.090 confirmed infections due to the measures of the governments of this world. Therefore we can hope that more people will change their mind and recognize the conspiracy theories and false information.
Finally, I would like to say that the dark side of this information provision is to be found in the fact that through the media the conspiracy theorists, right-wing groups and vaccination opponents are given a stage through which the number of these always appears to be significantly larger than they actually are. The proportion of conspiracy theorists, right-wing groups and vaccination opponents is significantly lower compared to the number of people who see the situation as positive.


[1] Badische Zeitung (2020), online

[2] Handelsblatt (2020), online   

[3] Badische Zeitung (2020), online           

[4] Munro, Dito (1997), S.636f

[5] Munro, Dito (1997), S.636f

[6] Munro, Dito (1997), S.636f

[7] Pohl Michael (2020), online

Sources:

Ohne Autor, in. Handelsblatt, 20.04.2020, URL: https://www.handelsblatt.com/politik/international/corona-diplomatie-suendenbock-oder-hilfreicher-partner-china-polarisiert-in-der-coronakrise/25754636.html?ticket=ST-480247-QMVbMbmpoCx3VO0TksBb-ap4

Pohl Michael, in. Augsburger Allgemeine, 02.06.20, URL:
https://www.augsburger-allgemeine.de/politik/Ministerpraesident-Laschet-Corona-polarisiert-anders-als-die-Fluechtlingskrise-id57479796.html

Dpa, in. Badische Zeitung, 11.05.2020, URL:
https://www.badische-zeitung.de/das-coronavirus-polarisiert-die-gesellschaft–185478314.html

Munro, G.D./Ditto, P.H. (1997), in. PSPR, Vol. 23, No.6, Biased Assimilation, Attitude Polarization, and Affect in Reactions to Stereotype-Relevant Scientific Information, URL: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0146167297236007?casa_token=oUjR2ypUSzEAAAAA:ne1L9RUebtbH25sMW-45zomwKXU0sy3B_8KjjliKiWT8HI7l_VySmJq4pB0RWbSI1oR-i3kzDLLVm4k

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