In a series on Instagram Stories on March 26, Yorkmemes, a popular page amongst students in York with more than 9000 followers, posted a number of images that place the blame of the coronavirus on Chinese culture as opposed to the malpractices of the government, while also criticising the Chinese Government .
Yorkmemes posted a screenshot of a Business Insider article with the headline “Boris Johnson’s government is reportedly furious with China and believes it could have 40 times more coronavirus cases than it claims”. According to the article, scientists have advised Mr Johnson that the number of coronavirus cases in China may be “downplayed 15 to 40 times”. Yorkmemes captioned the screenshot with the following text:
“Turns out Chinese govt propaganda pushed the narrative that fear of coronavirus/closing borders in response to it is ‘racism’ – which was rather unsurprisingly picked up by half the country here (until reality hit everyone in the face)
COUGH COUGH University Management trying to intimidate all student pages when one single Yorfes said a ‘Chinese swarm’ (of coronavirus carriers) could ‘kill us’
Turns out, had there been travel restrictions in place earlier on, THOUSANDS of lives would have been saved! This one anonymous post of ‘wrongthing’ turned out to be right”
The Business Insider article that Yorkmemes seems to be citing makes no mention of the Chinese Government pushing any narratives regarding racism, so it is unclear how the admins of the page came to their conclusion.
York Vision contacted the Instagram page for clarification on this, but they did not respond. It is also unclear what they meant by “University Management trying to intimidate all student pages”.
York Vision contacted their page regarding this, but Yorkmemes declined to respond.
In another Instagram story, the page said “Funny that SARS, MERS, H1N1, CORONAVIRUS and OTHER disease outbreaks all started at Chinese wet markets, yet it’s ‘rAcIsT’ to blame China for the Coronavirus”.
H1N1, otherwise known as Swine Flu” was a disease whose most recent outbreak originated from North America. MERS’ full name is “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome”. Yorkmemes later clarified that they meant to say H5N1, a disease that had an outbreak in 2003 in China. They did not address their use of MERS as an example of a “chinese disease”.
When asked about the effect that these posts may have on furthering xenophobia and misinformation, Yorkmemes told York Vision “‘YoUrE HeLpInG tO sPrEaD xEnOpHoBiA’ – we’re not commenting on that as it’s a stupid accusation aimed at tarnishing us, rather than actually helping anyone”.
They went on to say “we aren’t spreading racism and xenophobia – you’re full of shit and I can get 100 Chinese students on here to tell you the same. Go fuck yourself”. York Vision has not yet recieved any messages regarding the allegation that we are “full of shit”.
Steph Hayle, YUSU’s Wellbeing Officer has been contacted for comment.