Living through a pandemic during the social media age

Wuhan Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), woman and man in suit with blue medical face mask. Concept of coronavirus quarantine

In the face of the coronavirus, social media is a great way for individuals and communities to stay connected even while physically separated. With the advent of social media in the 21st century, not only are we learning the latest news updates, but we’re also using platforms like Facebook and Twitter to provide personal and business updates. For businesses, this means leveraging social media to support employees and customers like never before. For the government, it means doing its best to efficiently share factual and up-to-date information.

Taking a look at how individuals, businesses, and government agencies have been sharing information and interacting with others on social media in the past few weeks, here are two important roles that social platforms are playing during the COVID-19 outbreak:

An influence on public response to the outbreak

Billions of people are free to publicly share their opinions on COVID-19 across various social platforms. In the past few weeks, we’ve seen individuals, organizations, and businesses use social media to spread awareness of COVID-19, as well as the public actions that can be taken. 

Here are a few of the most distinct ways social media has influenced the public since the virus reached epidemic and pandemic levels:

Social distancing and home quarantine are trending

Until a few weeks ago, many of us hadn’t even heard of “social distancing,” which refers to staying at least 6 feet away from others to help prevent the spread of infection. Now, social media users, from friends and family to celebrities and governments, are regularly calling for social distancing.

Boasting and shaming panic buying 

Many people have been excessively purchasing household goods, sanitization products, and food in fear that necessities will no longer be accessible — just like they do when there is a hurricane or some other natural disaster. This over-purchasing has become so commonplace that social media users have coined a phrase to describe it: panic buying. 

On social, panic buying is being discussed in two distinct ways: 1) people are posting about their own panic buying, showing images of carts filled with toilet paper, water bottles, and frozen meals; and 2) people are posting pictures of empty shelves or other people’s carts as a way to shame supposed panic buyers.

A source of information as well as misinformation

Never have we had more realtime information available at our fingertips in the face of a worldwide event. Such information can help keep us safe, providing us with a better understanding of what is occurring and how it might impact us and those we love. Yet, social media can also spread falsehoods, including miracle preventative measures, false claims about the implementation of martial law, conspiracy theories, and more. 

Finding trusted sources of information regarding COVID-19 is extremely important.

Social media companies are working to combat misinformation on coronavirus

At a time where many of us are grappling for as much information as we can get our hands on, the public is especially susceptible to false and sometimes hazardous claims, which are then passed on to others.

untrustworthy sources on social media

The best rule of thumb for making sure information is accurate is to check original sources and make sure that (a) those sources are indeed trustworthy, and (b) the information was relayed accurately. Just because someone claims to have learned something from a reliable source doesn’t mean they’re relaying that information accurately. 

If you’re the one presenting information, whether on behalf of a business or your personal account, it’s your responsibility to cite and fact-check your own sources. Be wary of using verbiage that is alarmist or absolute. There are still so many unknowns about the virus, and nobody is sure what the coming weeks and months hold. It’s always best to be cognisant of this and avoid unnecessary bold statements.