A second-order disaster? Digital technologies during the Covid-19 pandemic

Madianou, Mirca. 2020. A second-order disaster? Digital technologies during the Covid-19 pandemic. Social Media + Society, 6(3), ISSN 2056-3051 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

One of the most striking features of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom has been the disproportionate way in which it has affected Black, Asian, ethnic minority, and working class people. In this article, I argue that digital technologies and data practices in the response to COVID-19 amplify social inequalities, which are already accentuated by the pandemic, thus leading to a “second-order disaster”—a human-made disaster which further traps disadvantaged people into precarity. Inequalities are reproduced both in the everyday uses of technology for distance learning and remote work as well as in the public health response. Applications such as contact tracing apps raise concerns about “function creep”—the reuse of data for different purposes than the one for which they were originally collected—while they normalize surveillance which has been traditionally used on marginalized communities. The outsourcing of the digital public health response consolidates the arrival of the privatized digital welfare state, which increases risks of potential discrimination.

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


20 May 2020Accepted
6 August 2020Published

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Date Deposited:

11 Aug 2020 10:58

Last Modified:

16 Apr 2021 14:47

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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