Friday, February 28, 2020

Networks, epidemics and infodemics

Part of what makes the coronavirus outbreak in South Korea so interesting is the fact that this nation has some of the world's leading digital networks.   These digital networks, in turn, underpin and enhance the role of social networking in Korean society.  I've posted earlier (see these posts) on the subject of "infodemics" in Korea.  The term infodemic was coined in a 2003 Washington Post article by David Rothkopf.  The opening paragraph of that article notes that "SARS is the story of not one epidemic but two, and the second epidemic, the one that has largely escaped the headlines, has implications that are far greater than the disease itself. That is because it is not the viral epidemic but rather an "information epidemic" that has transformed SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, from a bungled Chinese regional health crisis into a global economic and social debacle."
The current coronavirus outbreak offers yet another challenge to understand not only epidemics, but also the infodemics that accompany them.  An article by Reuters Graphics entitled "The Korean Clusters" is helpful in understanding the explosion of coronavirus cases in Korean churches and hospitals.  The map graphic in this post (click for a full size version) shows the number of  coronavirus cases as of February 26).  I recommend this article for some excellent explanatory graphics.  Oh yes, and I'm teaching networks courses at both graduate and undergraduate levels this semester.  At least for the first several weeks and possibly much longer, they will be delivered online, as South Korea seeks to minimize social gatherings to combat the spread of this coronavirus.