Covid-19 wreaked havoc in human society. The severe contagion’s immediate effects were the death of hundreds of thousands, economies & countries coming to a standstill, and unbridled terror in the hearts & minds of millions. Social distancing and physical isolation became essential. Towns and cities began to look like barren and abandoned wastelands as humanity sought refuge in their homes to prevent further calamity. Amidst all the chaos, communication breakdown, and limits on human interaction, social media acted as the sole beacon of maintaining contact.
The role of social media during the Covid-19 pandemic has been like a double-edged sword, however. It played a massive role in helping people stay in touch with each other and was an essential medium for exchanging communication. Online media sharing allowed educational institutions to carry on with their tasks, and academic writing services offered remote assignment & homework help to students across the globe.
Simultaneously, the unregulated nature of social media content allowed a lot of misinformation to spread indiscriminately. Given the massive popularity and increasing dependency of social media platforms, their impact on the common masses is substantial enough to cause unrest amongst the masses.
So, let us dig a bit deeper into this matter.
Social Media’s Positives During The Quarantine
As the World Health Organization declared the SARS-CoV-2 virus, a severe global threat, complete quarantine and social distancing measures became necessary. The biggest problems during such large scale isolation measures are drastic changes in how we humans interact and communicate with each other.
Social media acted as a boon during the Covid-19 pandemic in many aspects. Using the power of digital networking, online media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube connected people across countries and around the globe in the face of a complete quarantine.
The Internet and social media’s global reach made it one of the biggest communication channels during the pandemic. Numerous social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, etc., experienced an approximate 50% increase in usage and messaging since the lockdown started.
As the pandemic disrupted global education, educational institutions worldwide resorted to online video telephony applications such as Zoom, Google Classroom, Skype, etc., to stay in touch with pupils and resume academic activities.
Source: www.smart insights.com
YouTube became a significant source of news and information about the disease and its global impact. YouTube analytics saw a massive increase in the viewership of Covid related content as the illness began to grip society. Besides the print media, YouTube is another central channel used by both the private & government sector to spread awareness about the disease, its impact, and the necessary precautionary measures.
Everyone felt the unavoidable mental stress due to the pandemic and the disruption of ordinary life. The stress was tremendous amongst the elderly, as information that the disease affected the ages severely spread like wildfire.
Social media platforms acted as an excellent medium for delivering mental health support through different programs. Countries like Canada launched online counseling programs to support the elderly and the distresses. In China, health workers used indigenous online media platforms such as Weibo, WeChat, and TikTok to provide mental health services across all of its provinces.
The Internet and social media came to the rescue of businesses facing unprecedented disruption due to the lockdown. Digital marketing on Facebook, YouTube, and other websites helped companies to stay connected with their audience. Whether by introducing new features or modifying existing ones, online platforms helped businesses tell their customers that they are there for them.
- Facebook’s Shops features allow businesses to promote and sell their products or offer their services online, either directly on Facebook or from the business’s website. Facebook has also introduced other features like Business Resource Hub, Automated Ads, and Appointment to support online businesses.
- YouTube’s Video Builder Tool allows business owners to create video content with ease. Content build with this tool is integrated with Google Ads automatically, thereby allowing businesses to spread to a larger audience.
- Similarly, Pinterest and Instagram have features such as Pinterest Shop and Instagram Stickers, which help businesses stay connected with their customers & vice versa.
Social media and the Internet played a huge role in navigating the ‘new normal’ and helping society find back its mojo.
But, the medium’s unregulated nature makes it susceptible to misuse, and the lockdown highlighted this negative aspect of online social media platforms hugely.
Social Media As The Hub Of Misinformation During The Covid-19 Pandemic
As most content on the Internet and social media platforms are not moderated for its integrity and authenticity, it remains ripe for misuse. The ensuing chaos due to the pandemic & the initiation of the lockdown was aggravated with widespread dissemination of unreliable and outright false information on social media and the Internet.
According to the World Health Organization, Covid-19 is the first ‘infodemic’ of the 21st century. The digital age, the widespread popularity & reach of electronic media & online social platforms, and lack of moderation were the biggest reasons why misinformation was all-pervading.
- The pandemic and the resultant lockdown caused an overabundance of information, most unreliable, on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.
Source: www.newsliteracy project.com
- Online social media platforms offer unprecedented access to a wide variety of information from various sources, and most of them remain unverified. Such dubious & questionable information feed the rumor mill and misguide the masses.
- Unreliable information during the pandemic led to widely polarizing opinions & controversies and incited riots & violence in numerous countries across Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. While many of such protests and violence result from increasing dissent due to unemployment & disruption of income due to Covid-19, misinformation added much fuel to the fire.
- Conspiracy theorists and other misinformed individuals took undue advantage of the situation to spread falsehoods. Political parties, private corporations, and malicious entities used social media to incite and astroturf anti-lockdown protests.
Things reached a crescendo after the leader of one of the most influential countries globally, the United States of America, Mr. Donald Trump, used social media to show his support against lockdown measures, fuelling further unrest.
- Fake and inaccurate news spread like wildfire across social media as their creators tend to use appealing content to lure in the unwary. Consumers of such phony news rarely fact-check the truthfulness of the information sources and fall prey to falsehoods.Such consumers become a secondary source or a ‘vector’ of wrong information, spreading it to the larger population.
The analogy between the pandemic and the infodemic is quite evident from the above scenario.
The role of social media during the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent pandemic was two-sided. At the end of it all, the Internet and social media platforms are just tools for us humans. The onus is upon us to use them reliably and responsibly.
Author-Bio: Henry Howkins is a professor of social sciences from a reputed university in Singapore. He is also a prolific online blogger and part-time tutor at Assignmenthelp.com.sg, Singapore’s leading assignment help service.