By Madiha Ghaffar
As the world is battling coronavirus pandemic which started in December 2019, we have witnessed the power and constructive role of social media. Since 2020 rolled around, the outbreak turned into an international pandemic. As a result, social media became an indispensable source of vital information. This situation is the evidence to the raw power of social media. Social media giants have assisted in educating the public about the novel corona virus also known as COVID-19 by highlighting the significance of social distancing, adopting safety measures and transmitting information about affected areas. World Health Organization (WHO) and other public health organizations have also used social media to inform the public about the outbreak, and control the panic.
Atleast 177 countries and territories have been affected by COVID-19. As this virus is communicable, most of these countries are observing complete lockdown and individuals are prevented to leave their cities in order to curtail the further spread of the disease.
Across the globe, people who are suspected of harboring this disease are quarantined in hospitals, medical institutions and inside their home. During this time of complete lockdown and social distancing, social media has proved to be a blessing for the people across the globe.
Method of Communication
COVID-19 has spread around the world with cases reported in almost every country but this wildfire spread has been outpaced only by its contagion on social media. Social media can be an unstoppable force, especially in times of crisis. People can avoid going outside and use social media to curtail the risk of being infected. Social media fueled scientific collaboration, created fundraising opportunities, and most importantly helped the quarantined people overcome their isolation. Social media serves as the only reliable way for the victims of this virus to communicate with the outside world. As the educational institutes are also closed, online classes have been initiated for the students where they can continue with their studies.
The optimistic view is that social media could prove useful at the time when many of us are isolated from one another, people can keep in touch with their family and friends, get the latest news, and can also order groceries and food online.
Celebrities from around the globe have always been very active and vocal about social causes and many of them have utilized their social media platforms to ask fans to be responsible citizens and be cautious as the virus continues to spread across the world.
Source of Information
Social media have also been providing news from early outbreak zones across the globe, as users widely disseminate stories and firsthand information from affected areas abroad. This information helped general public to have better idea about the scope of the threat posed by COVID-19 at a time when the messages coming from official channels were conflicting and confusing.
The social media app TikTok, popular among the youth and young adults, announced it would be partnering with the WHO in an effort to spread veritable information on the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, in addition to best public health practices. WHO posted its first TikTok on measures people can adopt to help protect themselves and others from getting the coronavirus. That video has racked up more than 27 million views.
Conversations around the coronavirus, especially those at the community level, can help us navigate this crisis, however, the demand for firsthand information about the outbreak has fuelled the popularity of coronavirus vlogs. People are eager to tell their stories and document their daily lives in the face of this deadly disease. Furthermore, several websites were also created which gave accurate stats and figures regarding the infections and death toll across various regions of the world.
Social media has also been instrumental in helping improve the situation. At the time of the global disaster, it gave birth to online fundraisers, people are giving money to struggling hospitals, as well as individuals at risk of dying from the disease. Various big companies and giants like Western Union and others are also joining in, encouraging their clients and users to donate for the cause. At community level, people have formed small groups to facilitate the victims financially and these groups are using social media to advertise their initiative and seeking financial assistance.
Scientists are using social media tools to collaborate, allowing thousands of researchers to brainstorm possible solutions, cures and explanations. Regular people can simply use social media to provide moral support to those affected by the deadly virus.
Struggle against the misinformation during the Outbreak
Social media websites are actively fighting the misinformation and fearmongering. Major social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Google, Snapchat and Reddit have announced strategies attempting to establish a firewall against the ‘infodemic’ and gave a joint statement announcing that they have banded together to fight COVID-19 related misinformation. As a result, these platforms have taken unprecedented steps to stop the spread of coronavirus related misinformation. Facebook has provided the World Health Organization (WHO) with as many free ads as they need and blocked ads from brands that may spread misinformation or have been exploiting the situation by claiming that their products can cure the virus. Pop-ups have also been created that directs users who search for coronavirus directly to the WHO’s website. These social media platforms have also expanded their dedicated search prompt feature to ensure that when the user comes to explore information about Covid-19, he is provided with credible content at the top of his search results. Twitter also directs its users to local health authorities and is also actively working to ensure that only correct sources get amplified. Content from reputable accounts is given priority, while amateur claims are being scrutinized and fact checked.
Rumors are a second form of misinformation. One popular conspiracy theory held that the virus was developed as a means to wage a biological war. Such rumors may have even jeopardized the working relationship between the scientists searching for a COVID-19 vaccine. Various unproven natural and traditional remedies were proffered as cures. However, the role of social media has been commendable in fighting against these rumors and curtailing the further spread.
A recent survey shows that social media has positively impacted the general and mental health of people. Support through various social media platforms has been predictive as not only better for mental health but has also decreased levels of depression, anxiety and loneliness. However, when we return to non-emergency times, social media should not compensate for or replace in-person friendships or long-term, deep connections. But right now, social media connections are needed more than ever to help people receive the support they need.