It's not often that you can get behind a social movement and declare victory all in one short month. The decentralized movement to get people to wear masks to prevent the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 did just that. Masks are now mainstream. The authorities have conceded that they were wrong. We've won.
In mid-March, I was sitting at lunch with a friend in largely virus-free Hong Kong, I shared my frustration that our weeks of warnings to family in friends in the USA and Europe that it was time to leave or at very least time to prepare defenses and change their daily behavior to get ahead of the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus had fallen on deaf ears.
After being surrounded for weeks by mask-wearing fellow Hong Kongers, I'd dug into the research behind the efficacy of masks as an infection-reduction mechanism and had become a convert. I'd watched as a Hong Kong saw a decentralized, community-led response such as mask wearing and social distancing combined with pushing the government to take obvious steps at borders to control imported cases and quick testing and quarantine of close contacts keep community transmission of the virus in check.
In contrast, concerned parties in other countries were fighting against government disinformation campaigns that were reassuring them it was safe to go about their lives as normal and telling them that our warnings to wear masks were best to be ignored. New York City's mayor told people to out to the movies, Singapore was told people mask wearing wasn't necessary, and the White House said it's just the flu - all while buying masks for the leadership to wear.
All the time and effort arguing with friends and family being misled by "authorities" was frustrating. "Why can't they just Wear A Fucking Mask?" I asked my friend.
Instead of arguing one-on-one, the internet gives us to the power change behavior at scale. Inspired by the recently started #StayTheFuckHome movement, I decided to start a #WearAFuckingMask to try to get people to change their mask wearing behavior.
I was been blown away by the response and enthusiasm. I'd originally hoped that the campaign would go viral in the US and Europe. Much to my surprise, however, it first went viral in Hong Kong as ethnic-Chinese Hong Kongers frustrated with much lower rates of mask-wearing among non-ethnic Chinese were very excited to see someone that looks different from them advocating mask wearing.
Of the dozens of people that reached out via email, almost every one was supportive. I received some hate on Twitter, mostly from people based in the US, UK or Singapore repeating the same information they heard from authorities.
The strongest non-mask related criticism was that the colorful language used on the site prevented people from sharing it with their family or work colleagues. Based on this feedback, I created a safer-for-work version and some enterprising new internet friends created an entirely fuck-free version called #WearAFabulousMask.
Much as I was inspired by the #StayTheFuckHome movement, other mask movements such as Masks4All rose up as March progressed.
One of my favorite parts has been watching everyone add masks to their profile pictures. I provided mask images but didn't create an easy way for people to add it to their profile pictures. A talented Dartmouth grad student picked up where I left off and created the easy to use MaskOnMe app to fill this gap.
In the space of just a few weeks, the mask deniers - governments, individuals and the WHO alike - have given up on their mask misinformation campaigns and now recommend or even require wearing of masks by everyone in public.
Although we won the Battle of the Masks, it is a shame that it even had to be fought. The institutions that were funded by our money and entrusted with our societies' health and safety misled us. If they lied to us about masks, what else are they lying to us about? But that is another battle, for another day. Today, we savor our victory.