The COVID-19 outbreak has established the importance of digital readiness during pandemics. Building the necessary infrastructure to support a digitized world is the current mandate.
Technology has advanced much in the past century since we were hit by the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918, and it plays a crucial role in keeping our society functional. From remote working to distance learning, and from telehealth to robot deliveries, our world is set to witness a lasting change post this pandemic.
As with other major and minor events of the past few years, social media is playing a big role in shaping people’s perception of the ongoing pandemic. Not just that, the social media platforms have also contributed to spreading information/misinformation, helping people cope with the strange times, and raising awareness about some pressing issues.
Social Media and the pandemic: The Good!
Social media is one of the most effective ways to share news nowadays (it may be the only way for some people), especially if you are trying to alert the masses quickly. First-hand accounts of those who were infected and recovered were available almost in real-time. Scenes of lockdowns from the countries that first imposed it gave us a heads-up on what was due to come. If only we’d paid more heed to it.
With most of the world stuck at home, our mobile devices have increasingly become the go-to option to connect with the outside world. Social media usage has surged during the lockdown, with various apps witnessing a manifold increase in their traffic.
From educating to entertaining, social media platforms have stepped up as well. Movie and video streaming apps have redefined movie/video watching behavior by introducing features that allow users to host long-distance movie nights with friends and family.
We also witnessed a surge in various ‘online challenges’ that people could do in their homes and upload online. While some may view them as naïve, experts claim these are part of the various coping mechanisms for people.
Social media surfing has gained a significant share in the pie of leisure activities. Be honest, how many of us living alone are doing anything but scrolling these apps in our free time? But thanks to the social media ‘influencers’, scores of us are being motivated to workout at home, eat healthily, pick up a book, or learn something new.
Posts from health workers and others on the frontline have also helped spread the word on the difficulties they’re facing and rallied efforts to help them.
Online solidarity has spilled over offline as well. People are taking to social media to offer support in any way they can, such as picking up groceries for those who are unable to leave home or sharing information on how to support local businesses who are struggling. Communities are rallying together to support organizations and individuals by opening fundraisers to a larger audience.
Social Media and COVID-19: The Bad
Unfortunately, the impact of social media has not been all good. News on social media spreads fast, fake news even faster. Misinformation can cause panic, and can even turn out to be fatal on health issues. As a practice, we should all do a bit of research and validate the information from ‘reputed sources’ before sharing it.
This next bit is more of a tip…Whether it’s a business or a personal profile, you should refrain from posting anything that makes fun of, ridicules, or trivializes the situation. Not only is that insensitive, but it could also spell trouble for you, especially as a business.
The ‘influencers’ have been found guilty of misusing their power and taking advantage of the situation. Various inauthentic posts had gone viral before being pulled down. Do social validation and fame know no limits?
It is true that people often turn to social media as a stress-buster, but experts say it is equally stress-inducing for some individuals. It is important to note here that we’re also in the midst of an ‘infodemic’ – an anxiety-triggering over-abundance of information.
It is easy to overlook, especially now, the devastation that mental health issues cause globally. Studies have reported an increase in mental health issues attributed to social media in recent years. Psychologists say the lockdown will only add to that. Needless to say, mental health has a bearing on physical health as well.
Anti-rich sentiments have also gained momentum in the past weeks, as the pandemic makes the class divides glaringly obvious.
From the transparency that we have gained through this current COVID-19 situation, we now understand that we were not prepared to handle it. Many developed countries have had their health systems overwhelmed, those on the frontlines are being overworked and even the most advanced nations are stumbling to get their economies back up. The next pandemic is not a matter of “if it happens”, but “when it happens”.We need to be prepared at an individual and collective level. Indeed, technology has advanced and will continue to advance exponentially, but institutions and societies need to accelerate in adapting to it and continue investing in building the technology systems for the preparedness.
About the Author –
Prabhakar is a recruiter by profession and cricketer by passion. His focus is on hiring for the infra verticle. He hails from a small town in Bihar was brought up in Pondicherry. Prabhakar has represented Pondicherry in the U-19 cricket (National School Games). In his free time, he enjoys reading, working on his health and fitness, and spending time with his family and friends.