When Social Distance Meets Social Media
For the past decade, the most colossal distraction from life has been social media. We could have a deadline or class could have started two minutes ago, but still, we choose to lay in bed and refresh our feed, unbothered. Now, with everyone in quarantine indefinitely, life has seemingly been put on pause, and what else is there to do except continuously refresh our feeds? Some are caught in the purgatory of attempting to delete social media in order to escape the anxiety-ridden world outside of our homes, but redownloading out of boredom. Contrary to what we all believed a month ago, maybe all those hours spent on Instagram and Twitter are not the best way to pass time after all; they end up instilling more fear in users than not.
Social media has always been an outlet for humor and emotion, as well as a platform for opinion and spreading information, and that has not changed during the pandemic. The outbreak of COVID-19 in the U.S. brought on rapid change to everyone’s lives, affecting jobs, education, and all other outside activities that are not deemed essential. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suggestions of action for safety include banking and ordering online, and taking precautions like wearing masks and gloves when getting gas or picking up a prescription if necessary. A result of these drastic changes was a prominent shift in all social media use and content, and there is a bit of anxiety behind every quarantine joke, or attack directed at whoever “needed” to spend their spring break in Florida.
During the first week of quarantine, I was fascinated with how people were using their technological voices to express any type of thought or emotion, and how the panic created on a forum plays into the craze. I was seeing jokes about the deadly virus, and responses criticizing the individual for expressing a crude sense of humor during a time like this. Countless posts by young people, being directed at other young people, for being selfish and not following the rules, followed by ten Instagram stories in a row of a graphic of matches lined up, and then that one, brave match stepping out of the way, keeping the others from catching fire.
Why do people post anything about the virus anyway? I’ve heard many different theories, but the main two remain to be either spreading information, or doing it because everyone else is. Keep in mind, I don’t necessarily mean that in a negative way, especially during this time. With social distancing hindering human contact and gatherings, the feeling of isolation is, unfortunately, inevitable. In general, consuming media is an individual experience: you read information, then internally process it. However, joining in about the same topic as everyone else makes you feel like you’re experiencing it together, like you’re part of something. Isn’t that why everyone has social media to begin with?
On the other hand, massive amounts of boredom and remote schoolwork procrastination are leading everyone to absorb much more media content than normal (and it was not normal before, either). No matter what platform you’re browsing, it is COVID-19 overload. Each of the hundreds of news outlets on social media is obligated to report updates. Then take that number and combine that with the millions of people active on social media, meaning the amount of information being put out is being extremely amplified on each individual feed. Additionally, the desire to stay informed is leading everyone down a dangerous path of over-consumption. Reading about the number of cases and deaths has designed a new media monster, switching out the anxiety associated with social media with intense fear.
Fortunately for us, not all corners of social media are doom and gloom. If you search, you will find accounts doing free yoga, meditation and master classes through livestream. Planet Fitness is offering 20-minute workouts every day on Facebook Live, the Boston Public Library has teamed up with the Hands to Heart Center for virtual yoga twice a week, and artists from Lizzo to Yo-Yo Ma are using their social media platforms to share music with their followers. Although this aspect of social media is seemingly less prominent, that makes it all the more refreshing. The most prominent theme within coping mechanisms on social media is togetherness, in whatever non-real form that may come in. Joining a ballet barre livestream, or joining the daily, celebratory moment in New York City in time for the frontline workers switching shifts to hear shows that, even when pulled apart, people come together.
By no means was the pandemic the start of negativity on social media. Anxiety surrounding body image and FOMO are only some of the symptoms that can have dangerous effects on all users to some degree. The impact brought on by COVID-19 includes similar levels of stress, just a lot more obvious. There is no disguise for a detrimental virus, in the same way, smiling faces and inspirational quotes cover up insecurity, easily mistaking a long-term fix from a barely-temporary one. In a way, the pandemic has taken the focus away from the harmful aspect of social media that encourages you to photoshop your photos before posting, or telling you “pics or it didn’t happen.” But slowly, the quarantine jokes grow stale, and the preaching becomes less effective, and in the midst of lost jobs and a teetering economy, I honestly could not tell you what social media will look like weeks, or months from now.
Gigi Grady is a second year Journalism major who is avoiding the screen-time section of their phone. Who can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Art by Julia Young.