A Year in a Pandemic: Social Media is the New IRL

Words by Zaide O'Rourke

[Image via BBC]

No one has been exempted from the new virtual way of life that the coronavirus pandemic has bestowed upon us. From zoom boardroom meetings to televised GCSE revision, society has milked technological tools for all their worth. Ofcom findings show individuals are spending record amounts of time online, with people devoting 36% more of it to social media during the first nationwide lockdown than they did in the pre-pandemic era.


A report by the leading social networking management company, Hootsuite, identified 419 million new social media users globally during 2020 - taking the total number to 4.2 billion, over 53% of the world’s population. With great power come responsibility; regulators and governments have struggled to keep up pace with the evolving online landscape while the likes of Zuckerberg cash in on the scale of user-generated content.


Largely exacerbated by social media, we are living in an age of misinformation. Throughout the past year anti-vaxxers have succeeded in planting seeds of doubt in the minds of Facebook users, resulting in widespread vaccine hesitancy. And within just weeks of 2021, Donald Trump’s twitter campaign claiming voter fraud led to a violent insurrection at the Capitol. Afterwards, the former US president was banned from the microblogging site - some say too little, too late.


Although pockets of social media may bread hate, the power of the collective is not to be underestimated. Captain Sir Tomas Moore instantly became a national treasure after his charitable gesture, lapping his front yard 100 times over in aid of NHS Charities Together, went viral. His effort yielded over £30 million for the health service; a gift left from one hero to another.


Drag exploded during the pandemic as queer artists offered us a creative respite from the mundane chore of lockdown. Since the start of 2020 and including Holland, Canada and UK versions alongside the US Drag Race franchise, queens sashayed on our TV screens for a whopping six seasons. Many of them afforded us the luxury of live shows via social media as performance venues across the UK faced ongoing restrictions and closures, thus allowing LGBTQ+ folk to remain virtually connected.


Social media is utilized for information access by communities that feel under-represented in the mainstream media. The re-surge of the BLM movement, in response to the murder of George Floyd last summer, forced the world to confront critical race theory. His final breaths, shared widely online, are responsible for the societal shift in acknowledging and addressing institutional racism. Even corporations pledged to do more. Similarly, the recent rise in anti-Asian hate crimes and male violence against women circulated via Instagram infographics before the news outlets got a hold.


The power of social media is clear. From home-schoolers and front-line workers to politicians and musicians, people are reaching others through the web. Ideas and joy are shared, collective loss is mourned and sometimes falsehoods still prevail. 2020-2021 has cemented social media in the fabric of our cultures and proved being online is here to stay.