By Ayya Lmahamad
Last year was marked by the coronavirus pandemic, which has changed everyone’s everyday life in various ways, one of which is, without a doubt, the way people use the internet.
Social media platforms are amongst the most widely used sources of information in the world, the easy and inexpensive access to the internet and a large number of registered users on these platforms make them one of the easiest and most effective ways to disseminate information.
With the advent of social media in the 21st century, people are not only learning the latest news but also use platforms like Facebook and Twitter to provide personal and business updates.
Social media as lifeline during pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic has limited in-person social interactions, but people are connecting online more than ever. During the period of lockdowns, people were looking for ways to remain connected and entertained, so for many, social media has become a lifeline to the outside world.
Some researches showed that social media engagement increased by 61 percent during the first wave of the pandemic.
Social media platforms became an important recommendation for isolation at home as the source to reduce the psychological impact. These platforms turned to be helpful for the public to maintain communication with friends and family to reduce isolation and boredom which have been associated with anxiety and long-term distress.
However, social media didn’t just entertain people during the quarantine. A lot of people reported that internet technology helped them during the pandemic to educate their children, keep in touch with friends and family and even improve their mental health and well-being.
Indeed, nowadays they are a lot of stories about how the internet has helped with issues such as loneliness among seniors.
Moreover, during the pandemic, social media became very useful in terms of the rapid dissemination of protocols at national and international levels. It helped to share protocols about treatment, personal protection equipment, gave recommendations, connect to medical personnel quickly, etc.
The topmost discussed topics in social media during the pandemic were - medicines for flu; coronavirus/pandemic; delivery of goods; online excursions, lectures and education; food; home and garden tools; electronics; stress.
The analysis shows that the average number of active users of social media during the pandemic increased by more than two times. That is, for the first time we can say that those who use social networks now outnumber those who do not use them.
MIT Technology Review has called the COVID-19 pandemic “the first true social media ‘infodemic’”.
The start of the pandemic and increasing use of social media has demonstrated how the spread of misinformation, amplified on social media and other digital platforms, is providing to be as much a threat to global public health as the virus itself.
Although technology advancements and social media created opportunities to keep people safe, informed and connected, the same tools also enable and amplify the current ‘infodemic’ that continues to undermine the global response and jeopardizes measures to control the pandemic.
Thus, among the disadvantages of the increased use of social media, it is possible to say that information transmitted is not current, has not been subjected to peer review, is invalid, incorrect, not applicable to the environment, or even false.
Probably the worst face of social media is the potential to disseminate erroneous, alarmist, and exaggerated information that can cause fear, stress, depression, and anxiety in people with or without underlying psychiatric illnesses.
The current focus of the coronavirus outbreak and its rapid transmission of information in the world has made people learn and aware of the importance to access and keep updates as well as follow subjective guidelines.
People are working from home, and ensuring social distance, thus the majority of their regular time has been used up by spending more time on social media platforms not only to stay connected, receive and give social support to their relatives, colleagues, and friends, who cannot be visited due to the physical distance restrictions, but also for sociopsychological healing, sharing public information about the virus and illness, and suggestion regarding risk communication sourced from various information available around the world.
Despite the fact that many countries have already lifted restrictions, the new digital habits developed during the quarantine have persisted, resulting in a significant increase in digital activity.
The whole world went from barely online to very online in a blink. Never before in human history has it been possible to communicate so quickly during a pandemic.
Ayya Lmahamad is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow her on Twitter: @AyyaLmahamad
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