As our atypical, disrupted semester comes to close, it’s hard to believe a mere four months ago the world of social media looked drastically different. COVID-19 has altered every aspect of our lives, and our online habits are no exception. With platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram becoming our only means to connect with others in the time of social distancing, the way we use these apps has changed, possibly forever. I began to think of how our relationship with social media will evolve throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
The role of social media at the origin of Coronavirus was centered around information dissemination. This included troll posts that were categorized as “fake news”, but included important reports from doctors in Wuhan attempting to raise awareness around how serious the virus was. As the virus spread globally, social media took on a new role as an emotional outlet. This can be categorized in a positive way, since people are leaning on their social networks to gain a sense of community and belonging in a digital manner. Social media has also been a collective outlet for coping with humor through shared memes. Memes have always played an important role in social media, but now they are guiding us in uncharted territory. One meme account @adam.the.creator stated, “I don’t think it’s telling a funny joke about a deadly disease—you’re telling a joke about dealing with a deadly disease. Humor is helping us get through this. It’s about keying in on the common threads that all we have in our new lives.” It’s fascinating to see how these memes have changed from February 2020 to April 2020, just as the virus has. Social media has also been used as a tool. People have even been tracking posts to trace the timeline of the pandemic, as well as mining social media to anticipate how the disease may spread.
In an article from Insider, the author explores how “Coronavirus is the cultural moment, and essentially the default context for all memes or viral events.” Even though posts are becoming less directly related to COVID-19, all memes are still related to it. This goes for Instagram throwbacks, TikTok challenges, and Facebook posts – it all circles back to the larger issue at hand. The article summarizes, “In short, the memes show something that many of us likely feel to some degree: people are starting to adjust to this new normal, even though the world is still in crisis.
Social media has played an enormous role in establishing this “new normal”. Since people are unable to resume their daily routines, many are taking to social media to share “life hacks” or ways they’re adjusting to “life in quarantine”. For some, this is as simple as sharing little updates on what they’re eating, how their kids are doing, or what innovative activity they’re partaking in. Apple was able to put a spotlight on this creativity by creating an ad about how people everywhere from John Krasinski’s new news network to ordinary people virtually sharing cupcakes – all while using their Apple products. The end message is simple – creativity, and life, goes on.
It’s probably too early to speculate what lasting impacts the pandemic will have on our social media habits. Will we transition back to keeping more of our lives “offline” when we return to normal? Or, will we carry these new quarantine habits with us, needing social validation through likes and comments more than ever? Until then, I’ll see you all from a (social) distance.