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Coronavirus is being weaponised by online trolls, and it’s not OK

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Megan Murray
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Coronavirus has been taken on as the latest insult by online trolls, first attacking Jameela Jamil and now Greta Thunberg. This is why it’s so wrong. 

There is fear in the unknown. So, although we have no intention of contributing to the hysteria revolving the outbreak of coronavirus, it’s fair to say that at the moment things feel a little bit scary.

Whether it be wandering down the toilet roll aisle in the supermarket and seeing bare shelves that would look more at home in a horror film such as The Quiet Place rather than your local Tesco, or getting an email from your boss asking that you work from home for the next two weeks – our everyday experiences are starting to feel ever so slightly apocalyptic.

You’d hope that in times like this we as a society would be at optimum empathy levels. We’re all human, with the same worries and concerns. We’re all wary of this illness that we still don’t know much about. We all want to protect our families and friends.

So why, oh why, have some people decided to take on this topic of global worry to use it as their newest insult? 

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In a way, it’s not surprising. Time and time again we’ve seen internet trolls climb out from beneath their dingy bridges to hurl abuse with a keyboard. And worst of all, we can be almost certain they’d never dare to do this face-to-face.

But what’s particularly stinging about using coronavirus as an insult is how it dishonours the thousands of people who have been affected worldwide. This isn’t a joke: from those whose health has been compromised to those whose holidays have been ruined, it’s beyond shameful to use a worldwide pandemic to cheaply try and take down someone on Twitter.

The latest person who has been targeted by coronavirus-specific online abuse is, of course, Greta Thunberg. Despite doing her best to save the world, the Swedish teenager is constantly hounded on social media (often, might we add, by middle-aged men who clearly have nothing better do to – we’re looking at you, Jeremy Clarkson).

Yesterday (11 March) Thunberg tweeted a clear and informative message on the current status of coronavirus, urging people to listen to experts and scientists and to avoid large gatherings to slow down the spread. 

Although her tweets were both helpful and factual, some trolls couldn’t help but use the topic of discussion to attack her.

“Hope she gets coronavirus and dies,” one social media user tweeted in response.

Others similarly wrote variations on the above, wishing the illness on the activist.

To use such a raw and sensitive topic as an insult and weapon for online bullying feels like trolling has actually reached a new low.

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Thunberg isn’t the only empowered female in the media to be targeted, either. Earlier this week Jameela Jamil was taunted by more than a dozen Twitter users who joked about her getting coronavirus.

Jamil did not take the hurtful comments lying down. “If you’re gonna make a joke about how I am going to be the first actress with coronavirus, ya late and ya basic,” she wrote on Twitter, sharing screenshots of each of the trolls’ posts. “Joking about my mental and physical health doesn’t hurt me as much as other more vulnerable people with chronic illness/invisible disability/actual munchausens.”

It’s disappointing to see that there are people out there that will jump on anything they can to make a hurtful impact and it feels typical that outspoken women in the media have been targeted. 

But although these trolls have stopped to a new low, it’s slightly encouraging to see that elsewhere on social media people are coming together with support.

For example, Tom Hanks’ announcement on Instagram that himself and his wife Rita are currently suffering from the virus in Australia has provoked an outpouring of well wishing. 

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“Best wishes to you all! Not fun when you see your favourite actor is quarantined due to the virus!” writes one follower. “Hoping you and your wife have a speedy recovery. We need you guys to inspire happiness and hope,” another commented.

At the end of the day, what Taylor Swift famously sings is true: “haters gon’ hate”. But at least it’s positive to see that on the whole when we’re caught in difficult times, people are using social media as a way to support each other. 

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Megan Murray

Megan Murray is a digital journalist for stylist.co.uk, who enjoys writing about London happenings, beautiful places, delicious morsels and generally spreading sparkle wherever she can.

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