Recently, founder, Jodie Cook, was approached for comment on social media and its use during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown. We thought we’d provide the full responses to all 13 questions, below, including some of the tactics social networks use to keep users glued to their platforms!
Q: In what ways do you think social media has been a force for good during the pandemic and lockdown?
Social media and online platforms and tools can serve to connect people regardless of geography. Because much of the world is currently in lockdown, in-person communication is at an all-time low and people are seeking alternatives to stay connected.
Q: Have you seen any in particular booming – and why do you think these have particularly taken off?
Zoom, in particular, has taken off incredibly. Driven by businesses with a need to continue operating, the Zoom founder’s net worth has reportedly increased from $4bn to $7.9bn during 2020 (although his focus remains on serving their customers and not checking the share price). Zoom’s reliability and easy-to-use interface (easier than alternatives such as Skype) means its growth in business use has translated into personal use, and families are using it to stay in touch and hold group video calls.
Q: What do you think this phenomenon says about our human need to be connected? Is there something about seeing each other that’s fundamental to our sense of connectedness?
When we are busy, fulfilling obligations and rushing about meeting friends and family, we can take people for granted. Now that much of the world has been forced to slow down and not socialise, absence really is making the heart grow fonder!
Humans are social beings by nature, so solitary confinement doesn’t suit us. We need to feel connected to others to bond and feel trust. It makes sense that video tools have taken off because it gives more connection opportunities than letters or telephone calls. Most communication is non-verbal, so body language and facial expressions count for a lot of the experience.
Q: Silly memes and viral videos have been huge. We tend to see this on social media whenever a major event takes place. Why do you think they take off so much? What is the role of humour in these bleak times and why does it translate so well on social media?
Humans look for reasons to bond with others. Often it’s over shared conversation topics, mutual friends, common enemies and the weather. At the moment there’s a global topic that is changing people’s lives and affecting everyone in different ways, so it’s only natural that conversations revolve around it. Some brands who have been advertising on social media and not referring to the pandemic in their ads have been accused of irrelevance. Conversations on the internet tend to include silly memes and viral videos, and using coronavirus is an easy way for content creators to resonate with lots of people, which helps the content go further.
The role of recent humour is to support people who are having a hard time right now, of which there are many: NHS workers, business owners in financial trouble, people who have been laid off or are facing job uncertainty, people who are ill or at risk. Humour helps bond and provides comfort and reassurance that there are many people going through similar circumstances.
Q: It seems that social media has been able to bring about real-life action too – such as Clap for Carers and people supporting isolated individuals. Why is it powerful in this way?
In normal circumstances, the most powerful way to support a cause is with your feet; by taking action. The best politicians compel people to leave their house and vote. The best bands have fans who buy concert tickets and turn up early to get the front row. It’s the same with book releases, Glastonbury tickets and many other real-life examples.
In many cases, people are finding alternative ways of uniting and taking action to demonstrate their strong feelings. In the case of Clap for Carers, it was the most responsible way of showing appreciation and it picked up so much traction because it was straightforward for everyone to get involved. There were also far fewer excuses for anyone not to get involved.
Q: Is creating a sense of ‘normality’ important to us in these unsettling times, and in what ways do you think social media has helped facilitate that?
With any change, there are phases that humans go through. They include anger, denial and acceptance. The longer that lockdown goes on for the more that people are in acceptance, and the more that this situation is the new normal from which everyone operates. There have been some instances of social media users sharing gratitude – of finding silver linings – including appreciating having more time in which to read and learn, spending more time with their kids, being able to homeschool, not having to travel for work. Reading the stories of how people are adapting to survive and thrive is inspirational and proves that everyone can do it.
Q: Do you think a lot of new behaviours (elderly people using Zoom for the first time ever, us all calling each other more often etc.) will fundamentally change how we communicate in future even when life goes back to normal?
Older people who aren’t tech-savvy so far haven’t needed to be. They have received visitors and phone calls and that has been ample. Now that the visits aren’t permitted, if they want to stay connected they need to learn new technologies, which many have done successfully. iPads and FaceTime could previously be dismissed as something younger people did, but now there’s a far higher inclination to learn because going without might mean fewer interactions and conversations with friends and family members.
Q: How different do you think our experience of lockdown would be without social media? (i.e. if this had happened decades ago).
If lockdown had happened before social media I believe we would have used all of the resources available to feel connected. Perhaps we’d write letters or queue with family members to use the house phone, or talk over garden fences more. There might be more of a focus on ensuring all the family is staying under one roof rather than adult sons and daughters living separately from their parents. Human behaviour hasn’t fundamentally changed, all that is changed is the medium through which we are able to effect that change.
Q: What advice would you give to people to get even more out of their social media interactions?
Every change that requires adaptation also means new habits are created. It’s right now that those habits are being formed. Someone who spent the first week of self-isolation scrolling Instagram, binge-watching Netflix and having daily video calls with their friends will likely continue doing that until it’s an unconscious habit.
Q: So would you advise it’s really important that people think about the habits they’re establishing right now and try to steer their time onto things that they would like to make a habit? Any tips on how to do this effectively?
It’s really important that the habits created now are healthy, positive ones, because soon they will become routine and then it’s much harder to change track. Do this effectively by creating yourself mini-challenges and involve your family too. List 5-10 things you want to do every single day and then check them off each day as they are completed. Start really small. Perhaps include: read one chapter of a book, write a journal entry, go for a walk, call a friend who inspires you, meditate for one minute. Try not to break the chain of days in which you do each item. The book, Atomic Habits, by James Clear, is a good place to start to learn about how to create (or break) habits.
Q: There are obvious downsides to consuming lots of content through social media right now – i.e. being exposed to endless streams of negative news, and simply spending all our time on screens. Do you have any advice for people on how they can avoid these negatives?
Constantly searching for breaking news will break you. Having a healthy relationship with technology first requires awareness. Constantly reading shocking headlines and articles about happenings all over the world is not essential viewing for anyone, but news and social media sites are designed to keep readers on them for as long as possible. They employ endless scroll and various tactics that mean you never leave. Whereas reading a book or a newspaper has a natural finish, consuming online content doesn’t. This means you have to set your own finish point.
Some tactics used by social media or media sites:
- Never letting you scroll to the bottom. Reloading and refreshing new content so that you stay longer.
- When you do reach the bottom of an article, ensuring you have other things to look at. For example with “You might also like…” boxes that display further articles.
- Giving you multiple shocking headlines in one go, so you open new tabs to read them (like the Daily Mail Online does down the right-hand side)
- Finding new ways of giving you notifications. Notification alerts give dopamine hits, associated with addictiveness. They signal attention and we start to crave them.
- Apps or websites insisting you turn notifications to on, so they can interrupt you throughout the day and draw you back in.
- Triggering your emotional responses by showing you content associated with significant life events of your friends. It will put big or dramatic news higher up; engagements, new houses, losses, etc.
- Social media sites and news websites will track you around the internet, collecting information on what you are doing and paying attention to so that it can tailor content that perfectly matches your interests and encourages you to stay. It can predict user wants and desires will alarming accuracy, and you might not even realise that machine-learning is behind it – you might think it’s coincidence.
- Turn off notifications for all of your apps except the essential few
- Set yourself rules to disassociate your phone and media with specific events. For example, resolve to not use your phone at mealtimes, or when playing with your kids, or when exercising.
- Use the screentime monitor and keep a log of how often you use your phone each day.
- Use the restrictions built into your phone to set hours between which certain apps are restricted.
- Charge your phone overnight in a room that’s not your bedroom, so that it’s not within reach while you sleep.
- Monitor your energy levels and notice when what you’re doing is making you feel pessimistic or fear-based. The media thrives on fear because it’s what keeps people reading. Take steps to do things that change your energy: speak to someone who inspires you, get some fresh air, think of ideas and make plans for all the amazing places you’ll go as soon as you’re able to.
Q: Any new apps that you’d recommend readers check out?
The meditation app Calm has been adapting to serve people through lockdown and contains meditations, music and various awareness exercises designed to build mental resilience and mindfulness to help people better deal with changing circumstances.
Calm has been running regular live Instagram sessions, has made a proportion of its content free and its in-app meditations (including the Daily Calm) are relevant to lockdown situations. The app also made April 5th “International Calm Day” in a bid to unite those going through unrest or difficult predicaments all over the world.
Business-based websites including Etsy and Shopify have picked up users since lockdown as people use their available time to become resourceful and start a business selling handmade goods or creations.
Q: What role has social media played in supporting peoples’ mental and physical health and why has this been so impactful? Is there something about exercising as a ‘group’, even if virtually, that’s more effective?
Exercising in groups has always brought benefits to the individual because it takes many decisions out of the equation. Going running with a running group takes out decisions about what time to begin, which day to go, where to run, and so on. There’s also a social element of meeting people and feeling like you’re aligned in your journeys, and an identity element, when someone wants to be known as a committed and active person. Anything that helps exercise become a habit has to be a good thing, and working out virtually with friends is part of this.
It’s well researched that people who exercise are generally fitter and healthier. Exercise also releases endorphins which make people happier. Incorporating exercise into your day-to-day is one of the best ways to maintain mental fitness and doing it in groups helps include connectedness in this process.