How COVID-19 Changed the Role of Social Media
October 16, 2020 by Soonwoo Kwon
Never did I know how difficult it would be to stay alone in my room for two weeks. After coming back to Korea in late March from the US halfway through my exchange semester, I had to self-quarantine for two weeks at home. Honestly, I would not have been able to stay home without social media. During the quarantine, I constantly felt frustrated and lonely. I missed talking to my parents without needing a door in between us. I missed being on campus, studying with friends, eating meals and walking to classes together.
Thanks to social media, I felt much better. I video called my friends through Zoom or Skype and we studied while calling. Although we were not physically together, I was thankful that I could still see them and spend time with them. When I did not have much to do in my room, I would spend most of my time online. It was since then that I realized how important social media has been during the time of COVID-19. It not only has helped me personally during quarantine, but also has played an important role throughout society.
Social media has taken on a bigger role of delivering and communicating important news and information since the spread of COVID-19. During the pandemic, it has been extremely important to keep up to date with new findings as well as disease statistics. Social media platforms have been the quickest in disseminating specific information about the virus, serving as an effective tool in democratizing knowledge. One can simply follow a credible social media account to receive relevant information in one's local area or on topics of interest. Seongnam-si effectively used social media to deliver real-time updates on infected locals and respond quickly to civil complaints. Likewise, organizations like the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency have been utilizing YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other online channels to release updates and briefings on the most recent developments concerning COVID-19. The strength of social media is also demonstrated through examples of other countries. Celebrities and politicians have utilized their platforms to help spread awareness and share expert health advice. I recently started to follow Annastacia Palaszczuk, the Premier of Queensland, on Twitter to receive updates every few hours on confirmed cases in Queensland, where I have some family members.
Social media platforms have also been crucial in spreading important social messages and enabling social activism. One of the biggest social media campaigns in Korea was the #thanksto (#덕분에) challenge. What began in April to express gratitude to medical personnel (initiated by the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters) spread into a campaign in which more than 25,000 people participated, including celebrities and politicians like former figure skater Yuna Kim and President Moon Jae-in. This social movement was an opportunity to raise awareness of the current healthcare situation and pay respects to the medical staff for their tremendous effort to combat the virus. #Stayhome is another hashtag widely used. This informs people about the importance of social distancing, and encourages them to stay at home and reduce risk of exposure to the virus. Other influential messages include: #safehands, which emphasizes the importance of washing hands, and #iwillsurvive, which highlights the maintenance of good hygiene.
Moreover, social media has served as a powerful tool for online social activism. In June, many of my friends participated in the “Blackout Tuesday” campaign by posting black square posts of plain black boxes on their Instagram feed. This was to express solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, a protest against racism and police brutality. Among the various methods of supporting the movement, social media proved especially effective because it has helped social issues reach a large audience (across the globe) in a short amount of time. The global movement certainly motivated me to learn more about the history of the BLM movement and its mission. I believe many others felt the same way, which helped enable the BLM movement to receive enormous attention.
Finally, various forms of entertainment on social media have made staying at home less monotonous. Since February, movement has become heavily restricted, causing stress and mental health issues for many. To overcome these difficulties, people have searched for ways to distract themselves with something new, interesting or fun to do at home. Many turned online to stay connected with their friends or family virtually and encourage each other, mitigating loneliness and empowering emotional support. This kind of community spirit has been strongly supported by Facebook and Instagram, as both added “care” emoji reaction functions or “thank you” stickers to motivate positive user engagement.
Furthermore, people have been spending more time on entertainment platforms such as YouTube and TikTok. I remember looking for YouTube videos introducing “activities to do at home” and “quarantine routines” to motivate myself to lead a productive day. Some videos that people have shared of their daily lives have gone viral. For instance, a video of an Australian woman taking out the trash in formal attire has amassed thousands of views, making people laugh during quarantine and enjoy their short moment of activities as mundane as taking out the trash. Sharing new and creative challenges enabled people to release stress, have fun and stay motivated.
In challenging times of the pandemic, social media continues to play an important role in elevating public health, bringing collective action, and creating entertainment. Prior to COVID-19, the detrimental side of social media was often stressed. Social media has turned this discourse around by proving itself a powerful and valuable tool to help overcome challenges. We should continue to utilize such positive aspects of social media and keep improving the social networking environment together.