COVID-19 pandemic on social media

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the usage of social media by the world's general population, celebrities, world leaders, and professionals. Social networking services have been used to spread information, and to find humour and distraction from the pandemic via Internet memes.[1][2]

Social media has seen a sharp increase in use during the pandemic, largely due to social distancing measures encouraged by many governments. Since many people are asked to remain home, they have turned to social media to maintain their relationships and to access entertainment to pass the time.[3] Moreover, social distancing has forced lifestyle changes for many people, which can put a strain on mental health.[3] Therefore, many online counselling services that use social media have surfaced and begun to rise in popularity, connecting mental health workers with those who need them.[4]

Increase in usageEdit

Messaging and video call servicesEdit

Multiple social media websites reported a sharp increase in usage after social distancing measures were put into place. Since many people cannot connect with their friends and family in person, for the time being, social media has become the main form of communication to maintain these valuable connections. For example, Facebook's analytics department reported over 50 percent increase in overall messaging during the last month of March 2020.[3] WhatsApp has also reported a 40 per cent increase in usage.[3] Moreover, there has been a noticeable increase in the use of Zoom since the start of the pandemic.[5] Global downloads for TikTok went up 5% in March 2020 compared to February.[6]

Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have all increased reliance on spam filters because staff members who moderate content were unable to work.[7]

Online counselling servicesEdit

Particularly in countries where the virus was hit hardest, such as China, online mental health services received a surge in demand. This is because COVID-19 has forced many difficult and unplanned lifestyle changes, which are never easy to adjust to. In China, medical staff has used social media programs like WeChat, Weibo, and TikTok to roll out online mental health education programmes.[8] In Canada, the provincial government of Alberta has launched a $53 million COVID-19 mental health response plan, which includes increasing accessibility to phone and online supports with existing helplines.[9] In the province of Ontario, the government has provided emergency funding of up to $12 million to expand online and virtual mental health supports.[10]

Effect of COVID-19 on mental healthEdit

There is extensive psychology research proving that connectivity with others develops a sense of belonging and psychosocial wellbeing, which enhances mental health and reduces risk for anxiety and depression.[11] The overload of information and the constant use of social media has been shown to positively correlate with an increase of depression and anxiety.[12]

Effect of COVID-19 on Online BusinessEdit

The rapid spread of the coronavirus pandemic has many businesses shut down and many workers either out of work or working from home. Families are stuck at home in self-isolation and quarantine as an effective measure of preventing the spread of COVID-19.Keeping that in mind, this puts today’s online businesses in a rather opportune position. Many business owners are complaining about losing sales from walk-in customers, while businesses with a well-designed website are serving more customers than ever.

Use as entertainmentEdit

Many Internet memes have been created about the pandemic.[13][14][15] A Facebook group has even been created as a space for young people (predominantly Generation Z) to share memes they create and find about the pandemic. The group is called "Zoom Memes for Self Quaranteens," playing on pun of the increase in Zoom usage and self-quarantining as teenagers, and has over 500,000 members as of April 2020.[16] The group serves as entertainment for the hundreds of thousands of young people that have been forced to switch to online school, helping them pass the extra time and help cope with the situation.[17]

During the pandemic many challenges spread across social media, potentially to link individuals to one another and to bring entertainment of the individual's attempts. One such challenge was the #See10Do10 which involves the individual doing 10 push-ups and recreating it, others included baby photos, dance challenges, and voting in candy and chocolate March Madness bracket voting.[18] Another instance, the V-pop hit "Ghen" by artists Erik and Men was remixed by lyricists Khắc Hưng and supported Vietnam's National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health to create the song "Ghen Cô Vy." [19] The song encourages listeners to wash their hands and became viral when Vietnam dancer Quang Đăng posted a dance to the song on TikTok and started the #GhenCoVyChallenge.[20]

Makeup artists on YouTube, have altered their videos to produce make-up looks that work around wearing a mask to prevent the spread of the pandemic.[21]

The Actors Fund, a charitable organization posts a lifestream of The Phantom of the Opera performance from London's Royal Albert Hall as a fundraiser for 48-hours in April.[22] The performance of Phoebe Waller-Bridges's stage performance of Fleabag was also used as a charity fundraiser and for entertainment.[23] Authors, musicians, actors, actresses and dancers put together many concerts, live streams of previous productions, readings, and productions that were live-streamed either for free, for an entrance fee or suggested charitable donation.[24][25]

Spreading informationEdit

Social media has been used by news outlets, organisations, and the general public to spread both valid information and misinformation about the pandemic.[26][27] The CDC, WHO, medical journals, and health care organisations have been updating and spreading information across numerous platforms with partnerships with Facebook, Google Scholar, TikTok,[28] and Twitter. Others such as an attending emergency medicine physician in the New York hospital system have been using their social media accounts to report first hand accounts of working to combat COVID-19.[18] It was reported on 8 April, that COVID-19 conversations around disease states have increased 1,000% around healthcare professionals and 2,500% among consumers based on a social listening study from 1 January to 19 March.[29] Pilot research examined whether U.S. trust in science changed between December 2019 and March 2020 after hypothesizing that the amount of public discussion and research would improve it, but the study reported a null finding.[30]

Doctors are also joining groups on social media to spread information about treating the disease[31] with one group on Facebook, the PMG COVID-19 Subgroup on Facebook reporting some 30,000 members worldwide by the end of March. Another group, Physician Moms Group, which was started five years prior to the pandemic had so many people wanting to join the 70,000 strong group that Facebook click-to-join code broke and 10,000 additional doctors waited for it to be fixed. The groups have allowed medical professionals to collaborate with one another, gather information and help direct supplies to hospitals that need them.[32]

Medical professionals have also used social media in an effort to educate the general population about the impact of working in PPE for upwards of twelve-hour shifts, utilizing a trend that showcased their faces after their shifts and their masks are removed. Many of the individuals who participated had bruises, indents, redness and even bandaids covering blisters formed by the masks sitting tight on their faces for hours.[33]


MIT Technology Review has called the coronavirus pandemic "the first true social-media 'infodemic'".[34][35] National Geographic has reported on an increased level of "fake animal news" on social media during the pandemic.[36] Studies in the past have shown how people have stopped getting their information from browsers, and other search methods in favor of relying on social media. Political bots are a popular way of spreading misinformation and propaganda, as well as manipulating the opinions of people. Cases of propaganda and misinformation can vary by country.[37] Misinformation can be spread strategically, but it can sometimes be spread by accident. Misinformation has the potential to make the pandemic more dangerous than it already is.[38]

BBC News reported on Facebook, groups opposing vaccines and those campaigning against 5G mobile phone networks created unwanted rumors. The Stop 5G UK group on Facebook 5G and other groups posted an article from Technocracy News that claims: "It is becoming pretty clear that the Hunan coronavirus is an engineered bio-weapon that was either purposely or accidentally released."[39] Online rumors have led to mob attacks in India and mass poisonings in Iran, with telecommunications engineers threatened and attacked and phone masts set on fire in the United Kingdom.[40]

Social media has also contributed to the spread of misinformation. In Wuhan, China's panic has led to the spread of misinformation as well as the disease itself. Misinformation has been spread in the form of reports that fireworks will kill the virus in the air, as well as vinegar and indigowoad root curing an infection. This misinformation was spread via the messaging app WeChat. Citizens have also bought an excess of materials and supplies, which has depleted the number of supplies available to professionals.[41] Old and unsubstantiated information has also been spread as factual, seen with the rise of the reported benefits of Hydroxychloroquine, even though the WHO has ended trials around the product as it may increase the risk of patients dying from COVID-19.[40]

Usage by celebritiesEdit

During the pandemic many celebrities took to social media to interact with their fan bases and attempt to alleviate the situation through posts, acts of kindness or trends. Some have had posts swiftly condemned by the public, such as Gwyneth Paltrow who deleted a tone-deaf Instagram post about her designer fashion and Jared Leto who caused anger with his Twitter post about coming out of a 12-day silent meditation isolation in the desert.[42] Other celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres and Gal Gadot received kick back for their social media posts, of complaining in about being stuck in her California mansion and gathering all of her celebrity friends to sing John Lennon's "Imagine" respectively.[43]

Other celebrities or their family members used social media to announce their positive diagnosis of the disease such as Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, Idris Elba, and Daniel Dae Kim.[43] After recovering from the virus actor Daniel Dae Kim, used his social media to highlight the donation of his plasma, to a Vitalant blood donation center in hopes that his plasma contains active antibodies that could help others.[44] An Instagram post made by K-Pop Star Kim Jaejoong claiming that he had contracted the disease and was in the hospital receiving treatment, was later deleted and framed as an April Fools' Day Prank to raise awareness of the pandemic.[45]

Social media was used by celebrities to raise awareness for charitable action during the pandemic. Ansel Elgort posted an almost full front nude of himself on his Instagram page used the caption to post "OnlyFans LINK IN BIO" which directed fans to a GoFundMe created by actor Jeffrey Wright to feed frontline workers during the pandemic.[46]

Usage by world leadersEdit

On 7 April 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted the #AmericaWorksTogether hashtag to promote companies that are hiring employees in the middle of the economic turmoil caused by the virus and those who are donating food and other supplies to front line health care workers. According to a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Trump will also encourage people to use the hashtag when posting examples of Americans helping others during the crisis.[47]

Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the English Royal family have used social media to post comments to the public[48] along with multiple family members participating in Zoom calls to nurse to celebrate International Nurses Day, which was later posted on their YouTube page.[49] Prince William and Catherine Middleton, allowed for their Instagram account to be "taken over" for 24-hours by Shout85258, the UK's first 24/7 crisis text line that they launched with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in May 2019.[50] The Dutch Royal Family, used their Instagram account to share a video of King Willem-Alexander, Queen Máxima and their teenage daughters clapping for first responders along with a small speech by the King.[51]


In Turkey, more than 400 people were arrested for posting "provocative" messages about the pandemic on social media.[52] Chinese social media networks, such as WeChat have reportedly censored any term related to the pandemic since 31 December 2019, notably with Dr. Li Wenliang being censured by the Wuhan police for posting about the pandemic in a private group chat.[53] Doctors in China had been told by local authorities to delete posts on social media that appealed for the donation of medical supplies.[54]

NetBlocks, a civil society group working for digital rights, cybersecurity, and Internet governance reported strange Internet outages in Wuhan during the pandemic, and the Farsi version of Wikipedia was blocked for 24 hours in Iran. The VPN company Surfshark reported about a 50% drop-off of its network in Iran after the pandemic was declared on 13 March by the WHO.[53]

See alsoEdit


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External linksEdit