By: Johana M. Caba
Pandemics do not come around very often, but this is one of the first pandemics in which social media has been a crucial tool for fast communication between organizations, governments, companies and citizens. Everyone has been affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic in various ways. In the United States, we are still dealing with the earlier stages of this very serious respiratory illness. Still, there are some things that we can observe from the virality of this situation and how various groups are reacting to it on social media.
First, let’s observe how leaders in government are reacting on social media. For the most part, elected officials are appropriately acting by posting live updates of the cases within their cities, counties and states. Many are advising their constituents to practice social distancing, wash their hands and take this situation seriously. On the other hand, there are some that might seem tone-deaf about the situation by posting about irrelevant things such as construction updates or events that they are attending. Up until a few days ago, many politicians were still not acting accordingly by not practicing what they were preaching to their publics. If there is a lesson to be learned here, it is that leaders need to think about what they are posting at all times and how those posts will affect their constituents in order to ensure that they do not come off as tone-deaf in the midst of a global crisis.
Second, we can observe how non-profit organizations and for-profit companies are reacting to the situation. Many organizations are providing assistance to employees and allowing them to work remotely during these times. A lot of schools have closed and they have kept their districts updated on social media, via robocalls and via emails. On social media, most organizations have kept a serious tone in regards to the virus and have ensured that their customers can contact them for any questions or concerns. Airlines, in particular, have been updating their customers on Twitter to ensure that they are working around the clock to help everyone with their travel plans.
Lastly, we can observe how citizens have been reacting to the virus on social media. For the most part, many citizens are serious and trying to share updates with their groups. Others have been posting memes and videos about random strangers fighting in grocery stores over toilet paper. This third group has been reacting to the news in very different ways. As the situation worsens, it is evident that many more are taking it seriously, especially as citizens from severely impacted countries post their experiences online.
What can we observe and learn from this situation in real time? Well, first, governments and for-profit organization need to take a more serious tone on social media and update constituents and customers frequently. This aids in providing some peace of mind for those impacted and helps answer questions that they might have. Here, we also see that becoming tone-deaf on social media can have negative repercussions for the government or organization. Therefore, in this situation, these groups need to take a serious tone and focus on providing the best services that they can for everyone’s safety and peace of mind.
Additionally, we see the way in which social media can make such a scary situation a viral moment for various days and weeks. We also see the impact that live posts from impacted countries can have on the actions of others. For example, we see that as more survivors are posting from Italy and Wuhan about their experiences, more people are becoming aware of the magnitude of the situation and the serious health risks that this virus brings. All in all, social media can be a great tool during a global crisis such as this pandemic to spread real information from trusted sources, minimize false information circulating these platforms and communicate directly (in real time) with those impacted.
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