Grappling with social media amid Covid-19 pandemic
By Madyson Fitzgerald
Young adults everywhere look to social media for their source of news, entertainment, and much more. As the coronavirus pandemic has progressed, college students have learned a lot about navigating so much information.
The Pew Research Center reported in its “Social Media Fact Sheet” that over 90 percent of young adults aged 18-29 use at least one social media site. These sites, however, can lead to the spread of misinformation, mental health problems, and much more.
“First I was really scared because there was a lot of uncertainty and a lot of misinformation online,” Glory Harmon, a sophomore at the University of Richmond, said in an interview the week before Thanksgiving break. This speaks to a study done by the National Bureau of Economic Research, where they reported that, “our results indicate that misinformation on mass media can have significant social consequences.”
Besides misinformation, people have also become more vocal about their mental health on social media. One study done in May reported that, “all of the examined psychosocial expressions have significantly increased during the COVID-19 crisis,” with mental health symptomatic expressions increasing by 14 percent, and support expressions increasing by 5 percent on Twitter.
“Even working during the pandemic, I was very anxious all the time and kind of uncertain, but now it’s kind of funny seeing all the information and how people will have a lot of funny posts about it now,” Harmon said.
Jean Azar-Tanguay, another sophomore at UR, said that she noticed lots of funny posts about the pandemic, but it did not strike her as surprising. “There’s a lot of memes, but I think that’s kind of how our generation copes,” Azar-Tanguay said in an interview following Thanksgiving break. “So I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing, as long as people understand they’re just jokes.”
Elijah Michel, a sophomore at UR, went on a “social media fast” shortly after going home in March. He did not return until May, when the U.S. was witnessing its first surge in cases and the Black Lives Matter movement was growing after the murder of George Floyd.
“After that, I feel like I kind of just started ignoring a lot of both of those things because it was just too much. It’s not that it was actually, physically stressing me out, it was just that I felt like I just didn’t have time to engage with that,” Michel said.
Michel was right in one respect; it can be hard to keep up with just so much information at once. Kasisomayajula Viswanath, a scientist and professor at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, said it can be disorienting.
“People are hungry for information,” Viswanath said, “hungry for certitude, and when there is a lack of consensus-oriented information and when everything is being contested in public, that creates confusion among people.”
However, this “infodemic,” a term commonly used to describe the dangers of rapidly-spread misinformation, could help us, “design more efficient epidemic models accounting for social behavior and to design more effective and tailored communication strategies in time of crisis,” Italian researchers concluded in a study back in October.
Tiara Fulmore, a junior at the University of Richmond, said that the information she saw on social media was overwhelming. “Some people need to be reminded more than others, and I appreciated the constant reminder because no matter how normal it feels, we’re still in the pandemic,” Fulmore said.
“But it got very draining, and school doesn’t help. School did not help by piling more work on top of this time to grieve and stay alive,” Fulmore added.
Sadiesha Taylor, another junior at UR, said that despite so much information, it gave her some hope. “There’s no excuse not to be a good person because it is everywhere you look,” Taylor said. “People are telling you, you need to take this seriously. So, that gave me some type of solidarity where I was like, ‘Okay, maybe we will get through this because no one’s ignoring it.'”
For other students, like sophomore Christopher Wilson, the role of social media had a more positive impact. “As far as how that [social media] has affected my mental health, I don’t think it’s affected it in a negative way. I’m just very disciplined with myself and social media,” Wilson said. “But for other people, I can’t speak for them. All I know is that from an outsider perspective, I can say that social media — it’s given the chance for us to reconnect with others in light of everything.”