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April 12, 2024
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Lockdown and the Redemption of Social Media

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Lockdown and Social Media

Social media began, as the name suggests, with the intention and aim of connecting people. One could meet old, long-lost friends, or make completely new connections with the same ease, regardless of time and space, on the numerous platforms that constituted this new kind of media.

It may be a cliché to say so, but social media did revolutionize communication. It also opened opportunities for the masses – who would otherwise have been simply consumers – to be creators and shape narratives previously crafted and curated by traditional media executives. 

It became a shining example of what humanity was capable of. It defined and shaped entire generations and cultures. 

But this was not to last. Like all things, including good ones, social media grew a bit too much. From the hero that saved people from the cold impersonality of traditional media that had been subject to gatekeeping, it became the villain.  

Social Media and Isolation  

In their book Introduction to Psychology, Dennis Coon and John Mitterer explain social thinking and social influence. Humans in social context think in terms of roles, in the case of social media, leaders, and followers. Social media forms a perception of the real world by superimposing artificial and unrealistic standards.

These standards force the group structure (society/followers) to form cohesion, norms, and social conception – gradually forcing an attitude change through persuasion and coercion. 

First, people became addicted to it, as they would to alcohol, drugs, and tobacco, raising similar concerns. And then came the (too many) astonishing and ironic revelations that social media caused widespread feelings of isolation among its users. People in the artificial bubble of interconnectedness were suffering from loneliness.  

To some, this outcome seemed apparent, as they saw virtual contact on social media platforms replace actual, physical, real-world interactions and connections among people. The control it gave people to tell their stories and present themselves was far more than was available to them in real-world interactions, and falsification began to seep in. This was swallowed by most viewers as true. 

FOMO (fear of missing out), a playful and teasing acronym, became a significant factor contributing to declining mental health, fueling feelings of inadequacy and envy, and eventual isolation. Where people had earlier turned to for something they could relate to, they found only a version far from that.  

At a time when social media was beginning to be reviled more widely than before in light of the revelations about it and isolation, it found its opportunity for redemption – the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdowns it brought. Panic and chaos ensued as people were thrown into entirely new circumstances and were forced to refrain from actual contact, and to physically isolate themselves from each other.  

The Redemption of Social Media 

Social media came on its own at this time. It continued to replace real-world interactions, but in a way that was far more meaningful than before. It became more of a need than a fun and entertaining option. Apps and online services for video calling and messaging, such as Zoom, received much more attention and use than they did before the pandemic. Education and work shifted to online platforms as well and utilized these platforms. 

There was also a shift in the content produced and put up on social media. Where previously it had largely been dominated by images and videos of people living their best lives (and likely masking their internal and private struggles), everybody was now in, more or less, the same boat. 

Posts became much more relatable and uplifting. Hope and motivation were the main themes of content that went viral, such as a Scottish grandmother’s message of reassurance and advice to her grandchildren, and whole neighborhoods joining in singing songs from their balconies and windows. 

People now posted about their struggles with anxiety and fear or their daily schedules during the lockdown rather than their trips to amazingly exotic places or equally exotic and jaw-dropping parties and gatherings. 

There was a rise in the collective mindfulness of people – online support groups for people and mental health were widely promoted. There were also reminders to simply care for the people who might need more attention, such as neighbors who were seniors. Appreciation for both medical and non-medical essential workers – who are otherwise close to invisible to most – shot up as well.  

Lockdown Humor

While news became more and more anxiety-inducing, social media, more than TV or movies, gave people an out from the all-consuming “doom-scrolling”. Motivation about the very specific situation everyone found themselves in could be easily found. 

There was also stress relief in the form of the Internet and social media’s particular brand of user-produced humor. Memes about the pandemic, and the bizarre behaviors the situation induced cropped up a dime a dozen across all platforms. Very soon, “challenges” and dance trends spread too. 

Even the most harried group on earth, medical professionals, joined in the fun. Clips of PPE-clad doctors and nurses executing ridiculous dance moves during their breaks spread like wildfire. Humor also came in the form of user errors while video conferencing, caused by having to adapt to this ‘new normal’ in a short amount of time. 

Authority figures such as the police, the WHO, and government officials too upped their engagement on social platforms. Their accounts and handles became sources of important, trusted information, even as misinformation (a continuing downside of social media) swirled. They also allowed prompt responses to individual cases and queries – sometimes, intentional or unintentional humor could be found(often the latter). 

As feel-good material gained traction on social media, big brands adopted it too. Rather than trying to plug their worries into people whose financial circumstances were decreasing their ability to spend, brands too produced uplifting content. Many also used their online visibility to engage in CSR (corporate social responsibility) at a time when people needed it most. 

Some of the most severe disadvantages of social media have not gone away. Misinformation, divisive arguments and campaigns, and trolling are still going strong. However, there is very little doubt about it – social media went a large way towards mitigating the intensity of the situation for people who might have suffered a lot more without it. To the many, many people forced to isolate themselves, it became the only means to feel less lonely in a time of heightened anxiety and stress.

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