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How social media is slowing the spread of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has had severe negative impacts on nearly all the economies of the world. As currently reported, about 4.2 million COVID-19 cases have been reported worldwide, which has led to approximately 285 250 deaths across the globe. The increasing number of cases is worrying, prompting researchers, governments, and policymakers similar to devise means of slowing if not stopping the spread of the disease. Social media is considered one of the most suitable tools that can be adopted in slowing the spread of the virus (Iwai). Social media platforms play a vital role in information sharing among users across the world, as such, such could play a significant role in the global response to the pandemic. Issues of misinformation and posting of fake news through social media platforms may negatively impact the fight against COVID-19 (Pulido et al. 2430). However, the current fact-checking policy embraced by the social media platforms and the surge in the platform users guarantees the spread of correct information to the many users and policymakers to adopt behaviors and actions capable of slowing down the spread of the virus.

Global Community Impact

Social media platforms create a virtual community to support useful information sharing among users. Such information is likely to reach a broad audience when many users are brought on board. During this pandemic, there has been a surge in the number of social media platform users. An increase in the number of users in platforms such as WeChat, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook has been in the recent past, with WhatsApp registering the highest increase of about 51% (Qin et al.). In Spain, for instance, the number of Facebook users increased by 10.5% in February and March when COVID-19 was reported in the region. Such an increase in the number of users presents an opportunity for people to interact widely in various regions and across the globe. Also, the interactions support appropriate information sharing on activities and behaviors that will aid in slowing the spread of the virus.

Slowing the rate of COVID-19 infection is only possible when credible and accurate information is shared across the many social media platforms. Initially, social media platforms had been marred with significant laxity in fact-checking the content and information posted by various users. In most instances, fake news and misleading information have been spread to many users across the globe, causing serious damages based on the consumers of such information. During this pandemic, a significant number of social media platforms have diverted from the non-fact checking policy of its content. Facebook, for instance, brought down a video shared by the Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, indicating that “hydroxychloroquine is effective in curing COVID-19,” notwithstanding the drug is still under testing (Bowman). Also, Google removed, Infowars, an App from its play store, initiated by Alex Jones, that disputed the need for quarantine and social distancing as actions needed to slow the spread of the virus. The effective fact-checking policies adopted by most of the social media platforms ensure that only correct information is spread to the users, consequently aiding in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Social media platforms support various campaigns to counter the impacts of COVID-19. Through platforms such as Instagram, celebrities have been involved in campaigns to communicate with their many followers and help stop the spread of the virus. The “Stay at home” campaign has been implemented by many celebrities through their Instagram pages to communicate the importance of social distancing in the fight against COVID-19 (Velez). The high number of followers exhibited by these celebrities has contributed to their effectiveness in reaching out and communicating with many people to stay at home (Iwai). World Health Organization Instagram page, for instance, has only 4.6 million users, while the CDC account has about 0.7 million users, numbers that are below those commanded by celebrities such as Kylie Jenner, who has 168 million followers (Velez). She has been communicating with her followers to practice social distancing and stay at home, a campaign that has yielded positive results based on the positive responses she received from the followers. Instagram has thus enabled celebrities to communicate the need and importance of social distance, a practice that is considered useful in preventing the spread of the virus.

Other campaigns, such as the “flattening the curve,” have also been constructed through the social media platforms to slow down the rate of COVID-19 infections. Many social media platform users have created content that has gone viral to communicate the need for the people to flatten the curve and ensure fewer people contract the disease (Iwai). A significant number of Facebook users have either posted videos or pictures of them staying at home or undertaking measures such as handwashing to minimize their chances of contracting the virus (Qin et al.). Such contents are creatively presented to ensure they are widely shared and go viral to create awareness on the need to lower the infection rates (Iwai). Videos of individuals singing in the streets, undertaking various chores at home have been posted on Facebook to showcase their willingness to stay at home and contribute towards flattening the curve and lowering the rates of infections.

Musicians have also played a critical role in slowing the rate of COVID-19 infection. Using social media platforms as a channel to reach their fans, the musicians have presented concerts that advise their fans to stay at home and practice social distancing as efforts to slow the spread of the virus. Besides keeping their fans entertained to encourage them to stay at home, the concerts are also used as an avenue to pass messages on actions and change of behavior needed to prevent further spread of COVID-19 (Iwai). Discogs “Homespun” livestream series, for instance, has been involved in spinning vinyl records for viewers across the world. His Facebook livestream concerts also include various sessions where he persuades his fans to stay at home and contributes toward the COVID-19 relief funds geared towards assisting the affected persons. Billie Elish has also adopted the live concert approach to reach out to her many fans. She uses the “one world together at home” theme during her concerts as an encouragement for people to stay at home and avoid contacting the virus (Qin et al.). Such concerts streamed live on the social media platforms are effective in entertaining the users as well as encouraging them to practice social distancing as a practice to reduce the spread of COVID-19 virus.

Social media platforms have also been used as an avenue to promote healthy behavior focused on protecting individuals from contacting COVID-19 as well as assist the body fight the virus. Home workout videos are posted on the platforms to encourage the users to engage in physical activities that will boost their immunity (Breen). Individuals with weak or compromised immune systems are highly susceptible to the virus. Participating in active physical exercise will improve the immunity of individuals, thus lowering their vulnerability to the virus. Home workout videos such as “See10Do10” help people to stay active while social distancing (Breen). The challenge encourages users to do ten push-ups and tag other friends to do the same. The idea is to inspire people to remain physically active, despite the closure of the workout classes and gyms across the globe. The implications are a significant improvement in the immunity of individuals to limit their possibility of contracting the virus.

Educative campaigns have also been posted on the social media platforms as a measure to curb COVID-19. Contents such as “wash your hand” campaigns have gone viral in Facebook as a strategy to teach people, mostly children, on how to appropriately wash their hands to stay away from the virus (Iwai). Creative videos, mostly presented as a demonstration of the handwashing process, have been posted on the platform to reach many users and ensure they practice the same at home and other social places. The use of cartoons in educating the children on handwashing has also been profound, with many people engaging in creative ideas to attract and reach out to the children (Qin et al.). Such content has also included the benefits of handwashing and its role in slowing the spread of COVID-19. Such educative content is focused on minimizing the viral spread across all populations.

The adverse effects of the pandemic can cause significant mental health problems for individuals in different parts of the world. Cases of depression and anxiety are likely to be reported owing to the increasing number of deaths and the lack of uncertainties in getting a cure for the disease. The boredom that comes with an extended stay in isolation can also result in mental illness. Social media has played a significant role in addressing the mental problems and ensuring people remain healthy during the pandemic (Iwai). Psychologists have been involved in the provision of counseling to victims affected by the virus to ensure they maintain social distancing even with the challenges. Through the Zoom platforms, psychologists are able to connect with many people across the globe that are experiencing various challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Telemedicine advertisements are also posted on social media platforms to further communicate the approaches that can be adopted by the affected victims to avoid going into depression (Qin et al.). Resolving the mental health issues and ensuring that people adhere to the set guidelines on COVID-19 prevention slows down the spread of the virus across the globe.

Research Community Impact

To the researchers and policymakers, social media platforms also play a significant role in assisting them to stop the spread of COVID-19. The researchers use data from the social media platforms to understand the extent of the spread of the disease, thus formulate policies to stop further spread. For instance, researchers at Georgia State University, for instance, retrieved a trove of data from Twitter that assisted them in analyzing the spread and impact of the virus in the region (Toumey Reetz). More than 140 million tweets dataset on COVID-19 is publicly available on Twitter that can be adopted in providing insights on the extent of the outbreak as well as responsive to treatment for various changes and adjustments to be made. The datasets readily available on social media platforms thus assists researchers in having a better understanding of the impacts of the virus in a region, for the formulation of appropriate policies to address and improve the situation.

The data from the social media platforms have also been adopted in the evaluation of the movement of people to aid in contact tracing. The conversations publicly available in the social media and the posts made by various individuals can be retrieved and used in identifying their immediate contacts and points of interactions in case that they test positive for the virus (Toumey Reetz). For instance, most social media users tend to post their location in various instances. Such information is important to the researchers in assisting them in reaching all the contacts that might have interacted with the confirmed COVID-19 positive case. Contact tracing and isolation of the contacts is one of the most appropriate approaches in slowing the rate of COVID-19 spread (Toumey Reetz). The practice is, however, only effective when all the people who came into contact with the positive case are traced. Social medial platforms have proven to be effective in assisting the contact tracing process, thus explaining its contribution towards the efforts to lower the spread of the virus to various parts of the world.

Understanding population behavior is also vital in the fight against COVID-19. It is reported that the behavior and actions of individuals within a locality will determine the rate of spread of the virus. For instance, strict adherence to the social distancing practice, practicing good hygiene and the use of masks when out in public places are activities that will limit the chances of an individual to contact the virus (Toumey Reetz). The behavior of a given population and their strict adherence to the communicated best practices can be explored over the social media platforms for the policymakers to adopt appropriate measures. Researchers from the state university of Georgia used the tweets, sentiments, and impressions to understand the behaviors of a target population. The resulting information obtained was used in improving the campaigns on social distancing to ensure people stayed at home. Such information apprises the decision of policymakers on the campaigns aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 from ensuring a desirable outcome is attained.

Issues of data privacy are likely to arise with the use of personal data from the social media platform. Collecting data of the individual to monitor their movement using various contact tracing apps is considered a violation of the principle of data minimization and results in serious security and privacy issues (Stolton). According to the European Commission, location data obtained from various apps is not recommended for contact tracing and may breach the data privacy policies (Auxier). Unless a specific app is endorsed and approved by competent authorities in charge of a COVID-19 health crisis, they should not be adopted in contact tracing.

Various social media platforms are ensuring that ethical retrieval of data is embraced. Twitter, for instance, has put up measures to assist researchers in obtaining public data on various conversations and sentiments without breaching their privacy. Twitter has introduced a new COVID-19 stream endpoint to those taking part in Twitter developer labs, a program that gives access to new API endpoints after their public release (Perez). The endpoint enables developers to ethically access COVID-19 tweets in various languages to acquire a data set capable of guiding research in a wide range of COVID-19 related topics. Public health authorities in different parts of the world have also been engaged in assessing the effectiveness of the contact tracing app prior to their application (Auxier). Such measures ensure that privacy and security issues do not arise from the use of twitter and other social media platforms in providing more insights to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Conclusion

Social media platforms have played a significant role in slowing the spread of COVID-19 across the globe. As much as issues of misinformation and fake news are likely to affect the effectiveness of the tool in accomplishing the above role, with the fact-checking policy and the approaches adopted in addressing the issues of data privacy and security; social media platforms are effective tools that promote behavior change amongst users and policymakers geared towards preventing the spread of the virus. Social media platforms support the creation of virtual communities that can easily interact with other users. As such, celebrities have used the platforms as avenues to conduct various campaigns to communicate the importance of staying at home and social distancing. Viral contents and educative programs aired on social media platforms have also been effective in convincing the users to adopt activities focused on lowering the spread of the virus. Professionals, mostly psychologists, have also made use of the platforms to reach out to users and address mental illness problems, that might have exposed them to the virus. To the researchers and policymakers, social media conversations and sentiments have proven effective in providing more insights on the extent of the spread of the disease in a region for appropriate policy to be implemented. Data from the social media platforms have also been employed to assist in contact tracing, a strategy considered effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19. The practical strategies put in place to address the issues of inaccurate information sharing and data privacy and security have enhanced the effectiveness of the social media platforms in slackening the spread of COVID-19 across the globe.