How COVID-19 Changed Social Media

Sama Zaman, Staff Writer

Social media content has dramatically shifted towards COVID-19-related posts since the pandemic began. This content ranges from internet memes and TikToks about staying quarantined, to sharing news about the importance of social distancing, to finding ways to conduct online classes.  This dramatic shift towards homogeneous content is unprecedented, yet recent research on social media trends help explain this phenomenon. 

Why We Post is a global research project that studies the uses and effects of social media on its users. In particular, a 2016 study from University College London entitled “How the World Changed Social Media” studied how content posted online varies between different social platforms, age groups, and areas of the world.  The study spent 15 months at each of the nine specific sites across Brazil, Chile, China, England, India, Italy, Trinidad, and Turkey. They spent that time fully engaging with the population by understanding their culture and their ways of living. This was key to understanding social media from the perspective of the people at each site studied. Afterwards, a questionnaire was administered to the research subjects at each site asking various questions about their social media usage. The study concluded that social media usage varies greatly in both time and place, and that the best way to answer what social media is and how it changes is to understand the people using it.. 

All of these variances made complete sense in a pre-pandemic world.  However, the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly changed social media, which now seems to serve as a way to lightheartedly relay important recent news about the status of the virus, how to survive this global health crisis, and how to find solidarity in the stories of others in quarantine. Above all, it seems to connect people during a time where we are governmentally advised to stay physically distant, and it has made everyone’s quarantine experience much more bearable and certainly less boring!

Here are some of my personal favorite TikToks that perfectly display how people on the internet have been spending their “coronacation:”