26 Mar Social Distancing with Social Media – Helping or Hurting?
Millions of Americans are practicing “social distancing” to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. Most Americans are avoiding large crowds, public transportation, public places, and even small gatherings with family and friends in an unprecedented effort to contain the coronavirus.
With calls for isolation throughout the country, people are turning to the one place they can stay safely connected to the world: social media. People are flocking to these platforms to stay in touch with others and up-to-date on the current pandemic. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg said that traffic on the social media platform is “well beyond” regular traffic and Twitter reported monetizable daily active users have grown 8%.
“Social” Media Rediscovers Its Purpose
Watch out for depression! Because isolation and loneliness are detrimental to mental health, the World Health Organization recommends staying connected via phone calls, video calls, and social media to support mental wellbeing while social distancing.
Families and friends are using social media and digital tools to have dinner and game nights together. Fitness, dance and arts organizations are holding classes and meetups on YouTube and Instagram. Musicians are streaming live concerts via social media. When we can’t gather to connect in person, we are connecting online.
Panic Breeds Unnecessary Panic
With social distancing and the spike in social media usage, we also see a surge in anxiety and even panic. It’s a dangerous cycle.
Countless images of empty shelves and people fighting for household essentials have been shared on social media. The National Retail Federation stated that supply chains remain strong and that the empty shelves are a result of customers hoarding products like toilet paper and sanitizer out of panic. Neil Saunders, director of the retail consultancy Global Data, described the panic and shortages of these certain products as “unnecessary”.
Misinformation is dangerous and much like the virus itself, it spreads rapidly. The consequences can be serious. Conspiracy theories such as ‘5G wireless technology being the cause of coronavirus’ and false rumors of martial law spread like wildfire on social media. When dealing with a pandemic, facts are an essential component to containment and survival.
Looks like the giants have our back – Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, Twitter and YouTube said in a joint statement that they are “jointly combating fraud and misinformation about the virus, elevating authoritative content…and sharing critical updates in coordination with government healthcare agencies” in an effort to prevent their users from being misinformed.
According to Robert H. Shmerling, the Faculty Editor of Harvard Health Publishing, the best way to avoid being misinformed is to get your information directly from health organizations such as the CDC or WHO. And most importantly, do not let your primary source of news be from social media or a group selling or promoting a product.
This unprecedented social distancing has amplified both the best and the worst aspects of social media. Misinformation and panic spread via social media platforms is dangerous, but with the right approach social media can be utilized to combat isolation, reduce loneliness, and protect your mental health.
Philip Paverd is the lead Research Analyst at GillespieHall. A dedicated political junkie, he spends every waking hour measuring new trends and analyzing campaign effectiveness.