Advantages and Disadvantages of Social Media During Coronavirus Pandemic

Throughout history, humans have witnessed several deadly diseases that have created monumental destruction to mankind. Influenza, bubonic plague, and smallpox are some of the examples that have killed millions and millions of people. In 2019, a novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread like wildfire impairing the entire world. As of now, there are over a million cases of the disease detected across two hundred countries and territories. Suffice to say, this has caused a considerable amount of panic among the masses, as it should. What is interesting to note, however, is that this is the first time a pandemic has been covered and reported extensively through the internet and social media.

WHAT IS SOCIAL MEDIA?

Social media is defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary as forms of electronic communication (such as websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (such as videos). It includes, but is not limited to, blogs, video sharing, social networking, and social gaming. Since its inception in the twentieth century, its usage and popularity has only increased. Therefore, it is of no surprise that there are close to three billion social media users. Social media giants like Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter are pre-requisites for every person’s digital presence. Accessible, free, increased engagement, and resourceful – this is a tool that has something for everyone. But just like any other thing that seems too good to be true, social media could be a double-edged sword.

WHAT IS THE CURRENT CORONAVIRUS SITUATION?

World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the coronavirus disease as a pandemic on 11th March 2020. While there have been over 64,700 deaths, 246, 000 people have also recovered from the said disease. From its inception, preventive measures to further stop the spread of the disease have been mobilized stringently. Quarantines, travel restrictions, curfews, and lockdowns are some of the steps put in place. Everyone in coronavirus-affected areas are advised to social distance or self-isolate themselves and avoid large crowds. India, for instance, has banned public gatherings until the lockdown period. The coronavirus pandemic is a historical event of our times and it needs to be handled with good governance, diplomacy, and humanity.

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Advantages and Disadvantages of Social Media during Coronavirus Pandemic

ADVANTAGES OF SOCIAL MEDIA

Dissemination of Information

One of the major advantages of social media is the amount of information that is circulated. Trusted public health organizations like the World Health Organisation (WHO) now use social media to disseminate verified resource material required to inform and engage the public. Information and media sharing platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are outlets that are being used by leaders and decision-makers to ensure that correct knowledge is boosted. Governments have actively tried to interact with its citizens, promote participation as well as analyzed public opinion to dispel misinformation in times of the coronavirus pandemic. As people are participating in social distancing by staying at home, social media is among the only ways for a lot of people to communicate with the outside world. Therefore, genuine and authentic information is key.

Creating Awareness

With individuals staying at home, either by mandate or to exercise caution, several of them have taken to social media to do their part in creating awareness about the coronavirus pandemic. Actors, sportspersons, and other celebrities with huge fan following are using their platform and influence to help raise awareness. Challenges like the Safe Hands Challenge have been circulating on social media where influencers are informing their followers of the importance of personal hygiene, especially during these times. WHO has also partnered with a popular video-sharing application called TikTok, to create awareness about coronavirus and its safety measures.

Educational Benefits

Most schools and educational institutes have been indefinitely shut, examinations have been postponed with many students being automatically promoted to the next academic year. So, this has led to virtual classrooms with the help of social networking sites like Zoom, Skype where teachers and professors are ensuring that students do not miss out on their education.

Comic Relief

In these trying times, while the world uncertainly watches the pandemic unfold, internet users have kept themselves busy by seeing the lighter side of the situation. Internet memes, that is humourous images or videos of something that has some cultural significance attached to it routinely go “viral” on the internet. Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are a lifeline to a lot of students and young adults studying or staying away from their respective families as well.

Above all, be it to catch up on the latest COVID-19 news, shared experiences or just for some laughs, social media has come to the rescue to many.

DISADVANTAGES OF SOCIAL MEDIA

Fake News

Fake news, also known as junk or hoax news is information that deliberately tries to mislead the public either through traditional news media or social media. The reasons for publishing fake news can be unintentional also. But the point remains that information on the web can be irresponsible and harm individuals or entities. Everyone and anyone can voice their opinions on social websites. However, the problem arises when these same personal opinions get stamped as legitimate information or truthful content. This can then create negative buzz with dire consequences. Reuters recently reported that arrested over 400 people over “provocative” posts on social media about the coronavirus outbreak. Countries like Indian, Pakistan, and Myanmar have seen persecutions of religious minorities due to the spreading of false information through web applications like WhatsApp.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Social Media during Coronavirus Pandemic

Creates Fear

WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, had said in one of his speeches that “…we’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic“. A drawback to the user-sharing nature of social media is that it can lead to mass hysteria and panic. A scary example of this is how countries like the U.S, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, etc. witnessed panic buying of toilet papers which sometimes even turned violent. This is the result when nobody waits to cross-check if a particular piece of news or information is truthful or not.

Polarisation

Social media has birthed hatred that has polarised the public while the world has been tackling a tangible disease. Some of the reported incidences of polarising people include Donald Trump’s insistence on calling the virus ‘Chinese virus’ and the blatant Islamophobia in India towards an Islamic missionary movement called the Tablighi Jamaat over the links to positive coronavirus cases. However, these are just the tip of the iceberg. There are regular clashes between different religious groups and different socio-economic groups all over the world. This needs to be thoroughly investigated to avoid future disasters.

Not Universal

As popular it is among the urban population, social media is not universally accessible. In many developing and under-developed countries, there are partial-internet access or no internet at all. Apart from that, there are countries like China that have internet censorship that blocks social networking sites like Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Gmail among other websites. Hence, there has to be another effective way to disseminate information to people as well.

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Pros and Cons of Social Media

PROS

CONS

Dissemination of Information

Fake News

Creating Awareness

Creates Fear

Educational Benefit

Polarisation

Comic Relief

Not Universal