Media hysteria: Lessons from Brexit for citizens and for investors
Media hysteria: Lessons from Brexit for citizens and for investors by
The coronavirus epidemic has instilled real terror in the hearts of many investors, triggering a rude awaking to the actual state of the economy and panic unseen since 2008. This fear, that has spread among investors as it has among the general public, has been largely fueled by the coverage of the threat. Mainstream media, having themselves been threatened with extinction over the last decade, due to rising public mistrust, irrelevance in the age of the Internet and social media, and vastly reduced ad revenue, undoubtedly saw an opportunity in the Chinese virus story.
A mysterious contagious disease, out of China of all places, with the potential to develop into a full-blown pandemic – it really was a gripping narrative, like something out of a movie. Of course, when it all started, there were no studies or even projections, and nobody actually had any reportable facts about the virus or its impact. But that didn’t stop global media platforms, many of them tax-funded, from reporting rumors, opinions, and pure conjectures; anything to publish an attention-grabbing headline, one that would hopefully scare people out of the wits and compel them to keep on reading.
Sensationalism at its worst
While the coronavirus epidemic is indeed a concern, and does pose some serious questions about the economic impact it will have and its scale, the only honest assessment one can really make at this point is that it’s too early to tell. What we can tell, however, without a doubt, is that the coverage of the story is eerily similar to the kind of reporting we saw of another scary story: Brexit.
Today, of course, and with the great benefit of hindsight, Brexit is just a thing that happened, which we knew was going to happen for years, because 17 million people in the UK clearly and loudly decided they wanted it to happen. In this light, it barely seems like a story worthy of making the headlines unceasingly for four years and definitely doesn’t appear to justify any kind of apocalyptic editorializing of the actual facts. And yet, this is precisely what we saw, from that fateful day in February 2016 when David Cameron announced the date of the Brexit referendum, up until the very last second before it actually came to pass.
Mainstream media in the UK and all over the world latched on to the story immediately. Of course, there were no reliable statistics or forecasts, other than the ones produced by the Leave and Remain campaigns, all heavily biased, intentionally misguiding and propagandistic. Nevertheless, much like the coronavirus case, they didn’t let the lack of facts get in the way of a good headline. They just started reporting assumptions and hypotheses instead; the scariest, the better.