Zeynep Tufekci on the coronavirus surge and Trump’s authoritarian attempts

January 4, 2021

Zeynep Tufekci, Associate Professor at the UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS), offers insights and advice on the escalating pandemic and President Donald Trump’s grabs for power in her recent columns for The Atlantic.

Zeynep Tufekci speaks on stage with a dark blue background.
Zeynep Tufekci delivers a talk on truth in the digital world at the
2019 Big Challenge Science Festival, hosted by the Norwegian
University of Science and Technology.
Photo by Kai T. Dragland, NTNU

In “The Mutated Virus Is a Ticking Time Bomb” (Dec. 31), she explains why a COVID-19 variant that is more easily transmissible can be more dangerous than a variant that causes a more severe infection. She also advocates for implementing increased precautions and expanding genomic surveillance, even as data on the new variant remains uncertain. 

“We need to once again talk about the importance of flattening the curve,” she writes. “We need to again preserve hospital capacity, so our fatality rate doesn’t increase. But this time around, we can be a lot more hopeful: We need to flatten the curve because delaying potential infections just a few weeks or a month can make a tremendous difference when highly effective vaccines are being rolled out.”

In “This Must Be Your First” (Dec. 7), Tufekci relates her and her family’s experiences with coups in Turkey to help explain why the President Trump’s attempts to overturn election results – regardless of how ridiculous they seem – are more serious than the bluster or “norm shattering” that characterized his entire presidency. She explains how gerrymandering has produced both state and national legislatures where representatives elected by small margins can exert sweeping control.

Expanding on themes she explored in her previous column, “America’s Next Authoritarian Will Be Much More Competent” (Nov. 6), Tufekci warns that “ignoring a near catastrophe that was averted by the buffoonish, half-hearted efforts of its would-be perpetrator invites a real catastrophe brought on by someone more competent and ambitious.”

Find these and other columns on Tufekci’s author page on the The Atlantic’s website. You can also subscribe to her personal newsletter at zeynep.substack.com.