The Power of Language Amidst The Coronavirus


“Can we not talk about the coronavirus?”


I made this request to my husband after our first day of working from home together, but it wasn’t the first time I asked that question. I said the same thing repeatedly to my coworkers, friends, and parents. Yes, I’m fatigued by the bombarding of news streaming through my social media feeds. But I’m mostly feeling exasperated and appalled by how the language surrounding COVID-19 has escalated to confusion, heightened fear, and a shortage of toilet paper.


Language has power, especially during times of crisis. Our president dubbing the disease the “China virus” was not only racist, but had a serious and dangerous impact on Chinese individuals, businesses, and communities across the country. Even Humans of New York, who I typically consider a level-headed storyteller, referred to the coronavirus outbreak as “our generation’s World War,” as if that won’t make us Millennials panic. Your relative who lives in rural Ohio still thinks the virus is “no big deal” and confirms this through terrible Facebook memes (this one is a personal example).


How we express ourselves throughout panic or hardships reveals what we prioritize, who we trust, and how much fear we hold on to. The brands and leaders who have responded well are those who have taken an approach grounded in reason, science, and empathy. Those who haven’t are those who opt to abuse their power and influence, either revealing their biases, their greed, or their complete ignorance (I’m talking to you, Mr. President).


I think it goes without saying that those of us on the frontlines of building content for brands have to be extremely diligent on our own contributions here. Are we remaining practical, objective, and calm? Or are we feeding into the fear and anxiety? Are we choosing to be positive or are we spiraling into negative thoughts? And how is that translating through to an audience?


From an interpersonal level, even if you’re not in the world of marketing and communications, you still have a duty to take responsibility for your words. Language matters and can have profound effects on those around you. Be empathetic and own up to what you say, post, or Tweet. And keep washing your hands.


© 2020 by Abby Brown​

Chicago, IL