Balancing freedoms, rights and responsibilities during COVID in US: a study of anti- and pro-restriction discourse

by   Gillian Bolsover, et al.

Countries across the world have instituted unprecedented restrictions on freedom of movement, privacy and individual rights to control the spread of COVID-19. These measures tend to have been derived from communally orientated East Asian cultures. The way that culturally relevant concepts of rights and freedoms underpin COVID restrictions in democratic and individually orientated countries remains unknown. This data memo addresses this issue through analysis of pro- and anti-restriction discourse on social media in the US. It finds that anti-social and economic restriction discourse more frequently articulates rights and freedoms, based on ideas of inviolable rights to freedom of movement or freedom of economic activity or a cost-benefit analysis that places economic activity over public health. Pro-social and economic restriction discourse less frequently mentions rights and freedoms, instead supporting restrictions as following state and medical advice and out of deference and respect to medical professionals. Discourse is highly polarised and divisive and articulated largely through established political identity positions. It is suggested that more attention is paid to discussions of balancing rights and freedoms in COVID control restrictions. To convince opposers of restrictions, supporters of restrictions should base arguments around communal rights and positive freedoms. It is also important to critically evaluate whether and how these perspectives need to be adapted to be appropriate and resonant in democratic and individualistic countries.


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