“Face of the virus” report with besea.n on problematic over-representation of East and South East Asian faces in news coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic

I was part of a group of volunteers with besea.n contributing to a new report – “Face of the virus: Problematic over-representation of East and South East Asian faces in news coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic”. You can download the report here, and here’s the summary:

In an analysis of images of people in news coverage from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, besea.n found that East and South East Asian (ESEA) faces were disproportionately prominent.
Whereas ESEA people are an estimated 1-2% of the UK population, in examining a randomised sample of news coverage of the pandemic we found that ESEA faces were present in 20% of stock images of faces where images of any faces could have been used.
While ESEA people are generally under-represented in UK media, when it comes to the pandemic they look to be problematically over-represented, thus feeding into racialised narratives of the virus and coinciding with a staggering increase in the number of hate crimes and hate incidents against people of ESEA heritage worldwide.

I joined after the project was underway and contributed to the analysis, interpretation and writeup. There are many things to further examine here (including in the context of student projects and dissertations), not least the circulation of representations as “networked images”, delving into what makes images problematic, the role of images in materialising prejudicial associations, as well as the role of stock photography and “generic visuals”:

As researchers have argued, stock photography plays an important role in relation to matters of identity and representation. Images of apparently everyday scenes which are intended to be illustrative and incidental to news reports nevertheless can carry important and sometimes troubling implications.

If you are interested in future research collaborations in this area, you can get in touch or contact besea.n about volunteering.

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