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Social Media Distancing in the Time of Social Distancing

In these trying times, social media is as precarious as ever.
Social Media Distancing in the Time of Social Distancing
IMAGE SHUTTERSTOCK
In these trying times, social media is as precarious as ever.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to upend the world as we know it. We have faced countless crises in the span of only a few months. Crises we never thought we would experience in a lifetime. Our realities continue to shift on its axis with each Presidential press conference, DOH update, and the alarming increase of confirmed COVID-19 cases and fatalities. With familiar comforts suddenly taken away from us, and everyone staying indoors, Filipinos are coping with their anxiety in various ways, especially through social media. 

Given today’s very sensitive environment (both online and offline), a concept called social media distancing is beginning to surface. Think of it as the digital counterpart of social distancing that we practice today, and it takes on two definitions.

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The first one refers to the user who, given the very delicate digital climate, needs to exercise extra caution before hitting that Publish button, and to avoid posting at all if it'll do more harm than good. 

Is it worth publicizing or should I keep this to myself? 

While social media has served as a platform for rational discourse and calls for solidarity, there have been posts that aren’t so encouraging. These are posts with captions or comments that are deemed insensitive, and it’s much more complicated than it seems.

For one, there are posts that express the little inconveniences of "being stuck at home." These may be about not being able to eat a favorite treat, not being able to go out with friends, or maybe even complaints about being incredibly bored (hence the sudden onslaught of TikTok videos). For others, it's sharing a photo of a comfort or indulgence you're enjoying in your confines. Both types have been called out as insensitive to those in the frontlines whose lives are at risk or those who are struggling to survive.

On the other side of the spectrum, there are posts whose wording incites an army of bashers to emerge. It can even be as mundane as something that was written to inspire or to uplift, but when put into perspective, it comes off as ignorant and insensitive. It is in this ambiguity that problems arise, because despite one’s good intentions—and no matter how carefully crafted a message is—that post will be available for thousands of people to see—people with different social realities that are being affected by this crisis in ways we may never be able to fully understand.

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It is in this context that social media distancing, from the perspective of one planning to post, is something to consider. For as much as we try to empathize, we are only limited to our own perspectives defined by our social backgrounds.

I once stumbled upon a post on Facebook that says we should avoid saying phrases like “I get you” or “I know where you’re coming from.” It’s funny how it’s a natural response for most of us. When your friend needs advice, you say, “I totally understand you.” Or, when someone close to you loses a loved one, you say, “Don’t worry, I’ve been there.” But the truth is, we can never place ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

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On the other hand, there’s social media distancing from the perspective of someone browsing through content, which suggests for one to stay away from negative, anxiety-inducing posts.

I don’t know about you, but opening my Facebook feed every morning and seeing nothing but a barrage of bad news makes me anxious. With so much change going on around me, changes that I may not even be aware of—like how the suspension of public transportation is affecting daily wage earners that walk for two hours to get to work, or what goes on in those hospitals harboring and caring for the sick, or employees who aren’t assured of their paychecks—opening my phone sometimes feels like an ordeal. I relish those rare days when my family Viber groups send positive news for a change.

Even Instagram has changed. If before, one would see posh OOTDs, pancake boards, and travel photos, there’s this new home quarantine culture going on with people posting their work-from-home looks, their go-to reads stacked on their plush beds, or the ironic travel photos captioned with something along the lines of "May things get better soon."

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While there is a lot of good in sharing a bit of humor, joy, and beauty to keep people's spirits up in this new normal, mixed feelings also swell up in me about these posts. It's strange to take stock of these things in a larger context—go to your discovery page, search for news sites, and there, again, you’ll be met with shocking, depressing news about how the economy is floundering.

And of course, there’s Twitter, with long threads that blame, nitpick, and attack—sometimes with rationality, but other times, just full of hate. Then, there are the aforementioned insensitive comments and posts that have served as the topic of discussions these days about checking your privilege and social awareness.

It makes me anxious, disgruntled, and helpless even, knowing that in one part of the country, the quarantine has allowed some of us the privilege to chill at home, and in another part, people are worried about how to get to their workplaces or how to feed their families.

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So much to take in. So much to process. So much understanding to do.

This is where social media distancing steps in. If you’re anything like me, know that as much as you want to make sense of everything going on, and as much as you want to help make things better, know that your mental health matters. It’s okay to unfollow someone whose post or negative comment bothered you (or to mute them temporarily until your rage fizzles out). It’s okay to go on a social media cleanse for a while if you feel like your anxiety is getting the best of you.

Know that it is also okay to be confused during this time of crisis. It’s okay.

And so, what now? What do we make of social media in these trying times? For users who post often—whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram—discern carefully. Take a step back before you post, and figure out when it is important to speak up. Be informed. Be aware. Be wary of your wording.

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As for those who get overwhelmed by the negativity seeping throughout their feeds, draw the line between what’s a healthy amount of digital consumption and what’s not. Know when to withdraw from threads (or users) that make you feel uneasy.

Social media causes enough anxiety on a regular day. What more now?

For more stories on COVID-19, please click here

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