August 19: Social Media and COVID-19: A Virtual Conversation with Dr. John C. Pollock

Why Countries Outside the United States Trust Social Media to Confront COVID-19

A Virtual Conversation with 
Dr. John C. Pollock

Thursday, August 19, at 7 PM EDT on Zoom

On Friday, July 16, President Biden blamed Facebook and other social media companies for “killing people” by allowing pandemic misinformation to spread. How much do social media undermine collective civic responsibility, and how much do they encourage it? An upcoming book explores this question.

Science Writers in New York is pleased to present John C. Pollock, PhD, MPA, professor of health and human rights communication at The College of New Jersey, who will discuss his new book, COVID-19 in International Media: Global Pandemic Perspectives (Routledge, August 2021). Dr. Pollock will talk to SWINY co-chair David Levine (@dlloydlevine) about how social media is being used in other countries to inform people about COVID-19. 

U.S. social media platforms are often criticized for the role they play during the pandemic for spreading exaggerated claims about the impact of state lockdowns on personal liberties, generating misinformation about the dangers of vaccination, or challenging the good faith efforts of government and health officials to confront COVID-19.

It is striking, however, to witness how well democracies can employ social media to promote healthy behavior:

  • New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s nightly informal appearances on Facebook in a sweatshirt or pajamas remind fellow Kiwis to practice safety precautions and “stay in bubbles.”
  • In the U.K., a public health information campaign was launched on January 31, 2020, to advise the public how they could mitigate the spreading coronavirus.
  • Twelve days after Spain declared a State of Emergency on March 13, 2020, the media covered a patriotic initiative launched on Twitter by the tennis player Rafael Nadal and basketball player Pau Gasol (one from Mallorca, the other from Catalonia, both sporting icons in Spain) with the Spanish Red Cross to raise money to fight the coronavirus.
  • Similarly, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi rallied the nation’s entertainment community, in particular famous Bollywood actors, to help make the case for personal COVID-19 safety measures. 

In marked contrast, the absence of comparable government widespread mobilization of sports stars and entertainment luminaries in the U.S., or even their voluntary media appearances in substantial numbers, has been sobering and noteworthy.

Dr. Pollock’s new book, co-edited with Douglas A. Vakoch, professor emeritus in the Department of Clinical Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies, illuminates social media as constructive forces countering the spread of COVID-19.

Essays on social media’s role in confronting COVID-19 reveal that multiple countries regard social media as responsible platforms amplifying science-based pandemic precautions. Social media can function as trusted stewards of civic responsibility, according to Dr. Pollock. “The governments of several democracies have been extraordinarily effective in deploying social media in the fight to promote precautionary pandemic behavior. Had early precautionary behavior messages been championed frequently and consistently by U.S. national leaders via social media, different virus outcomes might be imagined.”

The book has contributions from scholars in a broad range of countries including China, Taiwan, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, New Zealand, Serbia, Estonia, India, Turkey, Russia, Estonia, Serbia, Namibia, Nigeria, the UK, Germany Spain, Cyprus, Canada, Colombia, and the U.S. 

About John C. Pollock

John C. Pollock is a professor in the departments of Communication Studies and Public Health, The College of New Jersey received his B.A. from Swarthmore (political science), M.P.A. from the Maxwell School at Syracuse (international public administration) and Ph.D. from Stanford (comparative politics/Latin America). 

Dr. Pollock has taught at Rutgers University and the City University of New York (Queens College) and has conducted research in India and Latin America (Colombia), serving as director of the Latin American Institute at Rutgers. Dr. Pollock serves on five editorial boards –Journal of Health CommunicationCommunication TheoryThe Atlantic Journal of CommunicationJournal of Media Sociology, and Mass Communication and Society (book review editor). He has authored, co-authored, or edited six books, among them: Tilted Mirrors: Media Alignment with Political and Social Change – A Community Structure Approach (Hampton Press, 2007) and Media and Social Inequality: Innovations in Community Structure Research (Routledge, 2013). Both books were selected as finalists for the Jane Jacobs Award for best book in urban communication by the Urban Communication Foundation. His most recent books are Journalism and Human Rights: How Demographics Drive Media Coverage (Routledge, 2015) and Making Human Rights News: Balancing Participation and Professionalism (co-edited with Morton Winston) (Routledge, 2017).

 Dr. Pollock has published scholarly and professional articles in Journalism & Mass Communication QuarterlyJournal of Health CommunicationMass Communication and SocietySocial Science and Medicine – Population HealthCommunication Research ReportsSocietyNewspaper Research JournalJournal of International CommunicationInternational Communication Research JournalMass Communication ReviewInternational Encyclopedia of Communication III, and Communication Yearbook IV, as well as The New York TimesThe NationIndustry Week and the Public Relations Journal.

Have a question for Dr. Pollock you would like answered?
Submit it here!

Thursday, August 19
7 to 8 PM EDT


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