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Some of you may die, but it’s a sacrifice I am willing to make”: Memes and the Social Media Critique by the UK Public in Response to COVID-19

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posted on 2024-03-20, 10:28 authored by Jessica Austin

On March 12, 2020, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the general public that they should prepare themselves to “lose loved ones before their time” when outlining the UK’s move from the containment phase of their coronavirus impediment plan to the delay phase. The UK’s strategy at that time was to allow healthier parts of the population who had a greater chance of surviving the virus to become infected and then recover. This strategy was based on the concept of “herd immunity” where, if a certain percentage of the population have the antibodies to a certain disease, it cannot be passed among them, and thus, the virus is unlikely to find and then infect more vulnerable people (Mallory et al. 2011). Classical utilitarianism proposes that any act that is for the “greater good” and benefits the majority should be considered the ethical choice. Guided by experts, the UK government believed that this was the best strategy, to slowly allow people to be infected who were likely to not need specialist treatment as to not overwhelm the National Health Service (NHS). However, the UK public were outraged by this utilitarian approach and used memes as civic engagement and political expression on social media sites, especially Twitter and Facebook. This chapter uses Whitney Phillip’s research suggesting that memes are the lingua franca of the digital native generation, that memes can be effective for illuminating a reaction to political policy, which in this case displayed an unwillingness by the UK online population to accept the notion of utilitarianism. This chapter provides an analysis of the reaction to the initial coronavirus response in the United Kingdom through social media platforms, providing insight into how communicating official political policy can become ineffectual in an age of pandemic literacy, of instant critique through popular culture memes.



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COVID Communication Exploring Pandemic Discourse




Vakoch DA, Pollock JC, Caleb AM

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