The New Yorker used this caption in a March article titled, “What the Coronavirus Crisis Has Changed about Social Media, and What It Hasn’t Changed.” Since then, even more has changed, between the continuing impact of COVID-19 and the emergence of protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
All the while, social media has played a key role in helping us share information and rally around causes that matter. Yet, social media has also proven to be a double-edged sword. False information is able to spread faster than ever, and in this age of fear and uncertainty, more are willing to believe it.
So, how have the events of 2020 changed the social media landscape? Here are five ways social media has changed in light of all that’s happened (so far) in 2020.
- We’re spending more time online
In March 2020, when awareness of the coronavirus pandemic began to spread, we started spending more time staring at our screens. According to the New York Times, in late March, traffic increased by 27%, 16%, and 15.3% to Facebook, Netflix, and YouTube, respectively. While we were no doubt seeking out entertainment and distraction online, we were also seeking out news and information about the virus.
Even though the United States is beginning to reopen (as of June), the constant influx of breaking news will likely keep us glued to our screens for a while. Between the current civil rights movement, the election in November, and more pressing current events sure to come, we want to stay connected more than ever, and social media is the perfect tool for that.
- We’re accessing information faster
In 2020, it can feel hard to keep up with all the breaking news. With social media, we’re able to see stories reported by top news outlets and stories from everyday folks. The same way CNN articles get shared, a viral post on social media gets retweets, likes, replies, and mentions.
The speed of the spread of information is great for bringing to light stories that might have otherwise gone unseen. Additionally, journalists can use social media to get news faster, spreading important and reputable stories faster than ever before. Yet, it’s important we’re not quite so quick to believe everything we read.
- Social media has made it easy to spread COVID-19 falsehoods
Sadly, COVID-19 information from experts and healthcare professionals has often been drowned out by frightened, underinformed, and sometimes purely dishonest voices. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres described this as a “pandemic of misinformation.” Sadly, social media is largely to blame. While it is great for offering everyone a voice, social media can make it difficult to parse the truth from hearsay.
But things may be changing. In response to the “pandemic of misinformation,” people are seeking out news and advice they can trust. Fear surrounding the coronavirus has led people to seek out unbiased information on the real-time spread of the virus. The New York Times and The Washington Post saw website traffic growth of over 50 percent from mid-March to mid-April, according to SimilarWeb. Meanwhile, partisan news outlets such as The Daily Caller, Truthdig, and Fox News did not see such growth.
- Social media marketing has changed
Social media allows brands to interact and connect with their audience, which has permanently changed the marketing and advertising landscape. But this means brands must keep up with the pace of the social media landscape, responding and adapting to what their audiences want to see.
Now, brands and businesses feel pressure to speak up in ways they hadn’t before the emergence of social media marketing. These days, “silence is compliance.” Yet, there’s also the possibility of criticism over what brands do say, which could seriously damage a brand’s reputation. Companies must find ways to use their platform for good without facing backlash. Here are some different approaches taken by the mammoth brands Starbucks, Ben & Jerry’s, and Amazon:
- Social media has made it easier than ever to change the world
The recent protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have shown us the impact social media can have. Arguably, this movement wouldn’t have come to a head in this way without social media. Since George Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020, many videos of other incidents of police brutality have been shared online, fueling the fire of outrage and demands for justice.
This is not the first time the easy sharing of information via the internet and social media has sparked calls for change, both big and small. Social media allows like minded individuals to join forces to make change happen, whether by signing petitions, donating, or spreading awareness.
So, where do we go from here?
Times are changing quickly. 2020 has thrown many newsworthy events at us in a short span of time. Therefore, we all need to develop a healthy mindset toward social media. We shouldn’t take every statistic, news article, sound-byte, and Tweet at face value. Do your own research before you believe anything and before you share it with your followers!
Most importantly, we should pay attention to what we can handle. There’s more information online than any one person could ever consume, so it’s easy to overwhelm yourself. Our simple advice for these crazy times? Use your best judgment, think before you speak, and look out for yourself and your loved ones.