Today, I saw a news photo on social media that was taken by a former intern of mine. Brianna Taggert is working for The McLeod County Chronicle in the small Minnesota town of Glencoe. Her photo shows people kneeling in a public square in a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest. Four people in the foreground are kneeling close together.
One social media commenter criticized the protesters’ lack of social distancing. I’ve found myself thinking the same thing when I see personal posts on social media of big families, who I know don’t all live in the same house, getting together for gatherings during the pandemic. It’s only natural to question the wisdom of this.
However, I’ve refrained from commenting. I don’t know the circumstances of the people involved.
- Maybe they are all living together temporarily and are exposed to each other every day – they are in a pandemic social bubble together.
- Maybe they’ve all had the virus and are not contagious now.
- Maybe they’ve all been super careful about their exposure and have made a considered, conscious decision to expand their bubble to include other family members now.
- Perhaps the viewpoint of the images gives a false impression of how close people really are to each other.
- Maybe the photo was taken a year ago.
For example, in the protest photo I mentioned, it looks like the people in the foreground who are right next to each other could easily be members of the same family. They are well away from other people. Seems pretty responsible to me. For the people in the background, I can’t really tell how close the groups of people are to each other because of the viewpoint of the photo. But if they are family groups, it looks like they are appropriately distanced.
The New York Times posted an article about social bubbles back in April. It offers excellent commentary on this topic.
One of Brianna’s professors from the University of Minnesota Duluth, John Hatcher, said this about the photo:
It’s Brianna’s “second day on the job and she’s covering what may be the most important story of her career. What I most appreciate is that this story shows us that the impact of George Floyd’s death is not just being felt in larger cites or solely by people of color. This is a story that is prompting action by people across our country and the world and in even in Glencoe, Minnesota, population 5,467. Let’s hope all of this is just the beginning of how we all reflect on what needs to change in our society and our own lives.”
That’s the real takeaway message of this photo.
Of course, this photo is different from images of protests in larger cities where it’s obvious that people are not practicing social distancing. And that’s why public health officials have asked them to self-quarantine for two weeks. I have serious doubts about whether any of them will do so, but I can’t control what other people do. I can only control what I do, and I can make suggestions to my family about what we should do.
I refrain from commenting on social media because I am not the social distancing police. And even if I did comment, it’s not going to make people change their behavior. Such commenting is for public health officials, not me.
Please, think twice before you make knee-jerk judgments on such photos. I’m not trying to control what YOU do, just making a suggestion to think before you type.