By Bella Urbani
As our first day came to an end, we attended another fantastic Houston World Affairs Council event at the Amegy Tower featuring Joel Simon, who discussed topics from his book Infodemic regarding censorship associated with COVID-19. As a nice bonus, we also had a chance to meet former LEAP Ambassador Esme Mata, who after graduating from SHSU, went to the Bush School at TAMU, and is now working for Harris County. And we had a chance to see Amegy Tower for the first time!
As we know, COVID-19 is still a very controversial and confusing topic, but Simon–with skillful moderating by Ronan O’Malley–was able to articulate how the COVID-19 pandemic led to various types of censorship across the globe.
The most fascinating subject Simon talked about was how some countries installed tracking apps on their subjects’ phones, so that they could see where they travel, whom they interact with, and whether they have potentially been exposed to COVID. If a person has interacted with a COVID patient, that individual is given mandates to stay at home or go to quarantine, and if they don’t, they can be fined or otherwise penalized. In some cases–as in Russa–individuals were given notifications in the middle of the night, and if they did not respond in time, they were assumed to have broken quarantine, and fined.
It was interesting to learn more about how other nations responded to the pandemic and how censorship policies, in most cases, hurt their country.
One item of particular interest was the importance of local news and leadership. National news figures and media have the “reach,” but they lack the trust, the sense of shared identification with locals. Local newspapers, local reporters, and local leaders share that identity, but almost thirty years after the advent of the internet, they no longer exist in many communities. They lack the reach. So, citizens were not getting information from people they trusted in many cases, and they also lacked information that the national media could not give: such as where to go locally for vaccines, or where medical supplies could be purchased, and the like.
The whole experience was very informative and easy to understand and Simon’s answers to our questions were very knowledgeable regarding censorship, which I appreciated.
After Simon spoke, we were able to get a signed copy of his book, followed by a picture! It was a great opportunity to see old friends (LEAP students and WAC staff), learn something new (from Joel Simon), and make new friends (Esme Mata).