Navigating the COVID-19 Reality

How our scrolling habits and sources of information are changing amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

In our new reality post-COVID-19, it’s easy to get lost in the torrents of information being spewed out from the news and media platforms daily. Figures, graphs, charts, new lingo like “flatten the curve,” and “social distancing;” but one thing that hasn’t yet been spoken about in any great depth is people’s reactions with their devices.

I – for one – have certainly noticed a heavy increase in my social media use and news scrolling, and I figured that surely, I wasn’t alone.

The reason for spending so much time on social media may be obvious to some, as we begin our lives in isolation, it only makes sense that we turn to the most convenient option available to keep in contact with loved ones. Yet, I am one person who is still out at work in the public, and I too see my social media scrolling hit an all-time high.

For me, I presume it is the worry for friends and loved ones, the fear of misinformation penetrating the communities that I am involved with, and certainly a way to release my over-arching worry.

Facts and education are the main reasons behind one Victorian’s recent habitual scrolling. AJ – a 51 year-old educator and business owner from Victoria’s Grampians region – had strong and immediate reactions to the first news of COVID-19 becoming a problem in Australia.

AJ has a non-functioning adrenal gland which puts her in the highly susceptible group of the population who are immuno-compromised, and therefore have a much higher risk of both contracting the infection, and inevitably dying from it.

“Considering my position, I had to find the hard facts,” she says, “and I feel it is my role as an educator to speak the truth at the time and educate others”

Having not really ever been a news follower, and living in an area with no television reception, AJ had to start her fact-finding mission somewhere, and it just so happened that her husband’s PC had the ABC News website as its homepage. “I had to ask him if he trusted ABC News as a source, because I know a lot of these mainstream media outlets are biased towards their own agenda. He said yes, which was good enough for me”

This has led to a daily scroll-and-refresh habit that was never part of her life prior to the virus hitting Australian shores. She says that her social media use has also seen a strong increase during this time.

A graphic depiction of the frustration resulting from people ignoring physical distancing guidelines.

There has, however, been a resistance to scrolling.

Cara (real name withheld) is a 34 year-old musician and disability support worker from Melbourne’s North-East. She claims she has weened off social media due to the concerning responses she was having to the constant blast of coronavirus news.

“I’m hardly looking at my phone any more. I’d been trying to spend less time on it anyway, but I just found [that] reading a million people posting about this virus made me feel pretty shit”

This poses the next invisible casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is likely to be a spike in mental-ill health. The reactions that people are having to the news and the virus in general is usually quite full of anxiety and fear, if not for themselves, for their loved ones that may be susceptible to infection, and the fate of the world as a whole.

It may just be that a social media detox is exactly what the world needs right now, and there are certainly a number of people leading the way in that regard.

“I’m still keeping enough of an eye [on COVID-19 news] that I know what’s happening, but not reaching for my phone all the time like I often do out of habit.”

AJ applauds this measure as she delves deeper into the misinformation being spread across these channels, “I’m specifically seeing a lot of negative responses from people on my friends list to a lot of either what I post or what is posted by news outlets,” she says “This forces me to go and investigate some of their previous posts, and anything else they may be contributing about coronavirus, and the non-truth that is being put out there is astonishing.”

“I think it’s really bringing out everybody’s true colours.”

Paul, 45, is a father of 3 who up until recently was employed in customer service within the insurance sector. Whereas he left his job voluntarily before the pandemic had hit, he empathises with others who now find themselves in this situation.

“I have been scrolling and refreshing my mailbox at least 10 times daily,” he says in relation to job applications and newsletters which arrive through his email. It extends to social media use as well: “Once I would have been content checking these platforms maybe five times daily each, however now it is up to 15 times, in order to give me the sense of being updated”

It is my belief that the current crisis highlights how much we unfortunately rely on the wrong media to attain our information. Ever since the Cambridge Analytica saga, the spotlight has well and truly been on social media outlets to try and curb the amount of ‘fake news’ content, biased influence and ‘data skimming’ of people’s personal information, but COVID-19 has shot that in the foot in two ways:

  1. The vast and ultimately unending articles being published with unsubstantiated claims, incorrect figures, concentrating on the wrong factors or even giving the population a premature sense of hope, and;
  2. The keyboard warriors spinning whatever information they find interesting, without checking sources or facts against respected publications.

Not to mention that Facebook’s algorithms (for one of the many social media platforms) have remained largely unchanged.

“I’m worried that it took so long for us to start taking note of community transmissions,” says AJ, “I want to draw people’s attention to this as being the key number. Not the infection rate or the fatality rate, but community transmissions. This means that we don’t know where the virus has spread from, and no idea where it goes”

An electronic representation of the COVID-19 virus.

All in all, whatever your reasons for scrolling more often, it is quite apparent that social media is going to have a heavy influence on our lives over the coming months, if we indeed choose that path. Maybe it is time we all took a leaf out of Cara’s book and took a more conscious approach to where we get our information, and also to alleviate our minds from both panic and overload.

I’ve certainly been bickering and arguing with people over quite a few topics related to the virus, including the government’s apparent lack of a plan (prior to the rolled out measures over the past few weeks), schools remaining open and people not adhering to physical distancing and isolation requirements in our major cities – particularly those who are still at work in the public. This may be useful to get off my chest, but it does nothing at the overall level but heighten my frustration and destabalise my current mental state, as well as ‘poke the bear’ for others to retaliate.

One of the silver linings in this whole episode may be that a good chunk of the population begins to re-think the way it uses and relies on social media, however on the downside we know that the spread of farce and misinformation will no doubt expand and deepen as we sink further into the COVID-19 crisis.

Where do you sit in the COVID-19 social media landscape? Have your habits changed? Get in contact – joshfornermusic@gmail.com or leave a comment.

For further information or reading, and up-to-date COVID-19 transmission statistics, I recommend you visit the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services dedicated COVID-19 website, or the equivalent in your state or territory.

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