Junior Preston Remlinger closes his textbook and retrieves his phone from his jacket pocket, his fingers curling around the silver case. His eyes dance across his home screen, quickly browsing through his photos and messages, before finally selecting an app depicting the outline of a ghost hovering in the center of a yellow background. He exchanges photos with a friend, chuckles at a joke regarding his physics homework and reads a few articles, all in a matter of minutes. Remlinger closes Snapchat and switches to another popular social media platform, Instagram. He absentmindedly glances at his feed and then suddenly halts, his smile dissolving. A post appears before him stating Doris Burke, a popular sports announcer, has the coronavirus. Remlinger begins to check various social media websites and frantically searches for further information, the color rapidly draining from his face.
“I use social media a lot throughout the day and the information I see is mostly helpful,” said Remlinger.
Social media platforms, a majority of which did not exist during previous pandemics, offer valuable insight to concerned citizens. The World Health Organization has partnered with Facebook and Twitter to distribute credible information throughout the website and answer any questions users have about the virus. Instagram is also promoting social distancing and regular hand washing by creating a shared story to aid those participating in self quarantine. Celebrities are even utilizing social media to discuss the virus and encourage healthy habits. Actor Idris Elba discusses his choice to self isolate and recommends viewers do the same, while athlete Rudy Gobert details ways to cope with the virus’ symptoms.
“Most of the information I see regarding the coronavirus is from celebrities’ social media. I don’t enjoy watching anyone get the virus, especially people I look up to,” said Remlinger.
Despite its positive impact on the masses, social media can be equally as harmful. Dozens of accounts on Youtube, Instagram and Facebook prey on the viewer’s fear of the unknown by offering solutions to their worries in the form of conspiracy theories. Julianne Heath, a lifelong resident of New Orleans, explains that the growing panic in her city has caused such theories to become more widespread. Over time, these lies will develop and spread through social media, viewers easily accepting such claims because they repeatedly witnessed the same misinformation. Some theories are harmless while others instruct readers to ignore government officials and encourage xenophobia, especially impacting those of Asian descent.
“I do not trust social media. I try to disregard anything I see on social media because the facts and sources displayed are often unreliable,” said Heath.