‘Unacceptable’: Realtors’ Instagram posts on China and coronavirus provoke outrage

When Kelowna home buyer Barb Chung looked at her Instagram feed over the weekend, she found two Kelowna, B.C., Realtors posting Internet memes poking fun at China, Chinese real estate customers and fears about the Coronavirus.

The posts were made by accounts associated with Royal LePage real estate agents Geoff Hays and Krista Marble and were scattered among other Instagram posts promoting real estate listings, sold properties and people enjoying life in the Okanagan region.

It’s unclear if the memes were created by the Realtors or copied and posted to their Instagram accounts. 

They have since taken down the offensive posts and suspended their social media accounts.

“I was immediately offended because coronavirus, in my opinion, is a very real threat to a lot of people’s health,” said Chung.

“I don’t think racism veiled through jokes is appropriate. I am a person of colour and I would categorize this as a microaggression.”

Screen shots of memes posted to Instagram accounts @geoffandkristarealestate and @kristamarble_realtor (Barb Chung)

Chung sent the Realtors a message to let them know she found the posts racist, but she didn’t hear back from them and the posts remained online, she said.

Chung said she follows Hays and Marble’s Instagram accounts because she is interested in their listings either for herself or to refer to her friends and family.

‘Unacceptable in today’s day and age’

The coronavirus posts struck her as unprofessional and not in line with the otherwise positive messages portrayed on the Realtors’ social media feeds, she said.

“They are posting family pictures and encouraging people to be kind to each other and to hang out with family more and then they are making racists jokes,” she said.

“It’s unacceptable in today’s day and age.”

Kelowna, B.C., Realtors Geoff Hayes and Krista Marble wrote they have ‘taken measures to suspend all of our social media accounts, to ensure there is nothing disrespectful, hurtful or inappropriate.’ (Facebook/Geoff Hays & Associates -Royal LePage Kelowna)

‘A hard learning lesson’

In emailed statement to CBC News, the Realtors wrote they now recognize the content as offensive and hurtful. 

“This was a hard learning lesson that we can’t be so careless with our posts,” the statement reads. “We thank those of you for bringing it to our attention; it won’t happen again.”

The novel coronovirus can lead to a respiratory illness called COVID-19. On Monday, the World Health Organization said China has reported 77,362 cases of COVID-19, resulting in 2,618 deaths.  

Outside China, there are now 2,074 cases in 28 countries, including 10 in Canada and 23 related deaths. 

Since the outbreak began, Chinese Canadians have reported instances of xenophobia they’ve experienced as misinformation and stereotypes run rampant.

Late last month, Canada’s chief public health officer, Theresa Tam, took to Twitter to call out acts of racism and discrimination related to the outbreak, calling them “unacceptable and very hurtful.”

With files from Chris Walker and Daybreak South