Social Media In The Time Of Social Distancing: How To Use It Wisely

Let me ask you this: how are you staying informed on COVID-19? If I had to guess your answer, I’d safely say, “online” or “on social media”

The fact is, digital attention is at an all-time high right now. With lockdown in effect, I find my Messages, WhatsApp, Viber and Messenger buzzing more than ever; 80% of those pings being COVID-19 related. While I appreciate getting most of the news, there’s also a lot of misinformation, rumors and over-elaborated claims that can cause confusion and generate panic. It seems like Social Media has become both a blessing and a curse in these troubled times.

As a Digital Marketing Consultant, specializing in Social Media Marketing, I feel obligated to do my small part in minimizing the spread of fake news, whilst promoting digital literacy and using this powerful medium for the good of others and to stay informed. I am no expert, because I don’t believe you can master a field that’s constantly evolving, but I’ve learned a few things along the way which has helped me become more confident in what I’m consuming, taking every update with a grain of salt and developing an eye for figuring out suspicious links and doctored screenshots. So this is essentially what I would like to discuss here and share my learning points on how to use Social Media wisely.

Before we get deep into it, there’s a reason why I’m digging into Social Media more than other digital means. This is mostly based on personal research of how people are consuming their content these days. Even when people get their information from a website, they end up sharing it through their social channels or social messaging accounts. And I get it. The beauty of social media versus websites is that social brings relevant content to you, whereas with websites, you have to go in and search for what you’re seeking. It’s push vs pull marketing.

For example, even though CDC is one of THE trustworthy sources, I get most of my information from their Twitter as opposed to their website. It’s simply about the experience. I go on Twitter.com and, boom, the updates I need are right on the top of my feed, which I can share with the click of a button. The long and short of it is, I follow CDC and the news comes to me, instead of me looking for the news. This is the power and convenience I’m talking about, and while this is good, it is also being used recklessly by people who may not necessarily have malicious intent, but are still catalysts in spreading misinformation.

So here are some of my tips, tricks and helpful hints in using social media wisely and responsibly during this pandemic —

1) Fact Check, Then Forward

Received an interesting piece of news you can’t wait to share? Before you do, take a look at its source and check if it’s also being reported in other credible media outlets. Look at the URL and see if it’s from an established news outlet. Stay mindful that content from their original source (such as research studies) could have been altered or modified, so it’s always worth looking at the original source and checking out the study directly. Another tip is to look for unusual formatting. Credible sources have top-notch web design so if you notice spelling errors and awkward layouts, best to stay away from those sites!

In times like these, we’re getting new updates daily so also take a look at the article’s date of creation to be absolutely sure of sharing up-to-date news.

If you’re truly unable to verify the source but are itching to share with your network, simply add a disclaimer on top saying, “Not unconfirmed” or “Forwarded as received” so people know to not take its word too seriously.

Following simple fact-checking techniques can help eradicate deeper problems such as panic buying and public safety. For example, when you forward so-called “health tips,” some people may believe them to be true and this is what spreads the misinformation. However, if you fact-check first you might be able to read credible content as to why it doesn’t work. At this point, if you see something online about a “cure”, don’t go running and panic buying, because when you buy something “for the sake of it” you may be taking it away from someone who actually needs it.

2) Check In On Your Family, Friends & Colleagues:

The fact is, staying inside and isolated can take a toll on anyone’s mental health. This is why it’s important, now more than ever, to keep in touch with your loved ones. My immediate family is dispersed throughout three different time zones and it seems like social messaging apps are the most practical ways to maintain contact. Why not use this social distancing to get close to your loved ones? I believe this time will massively impact how we connect with people moving forward. Use your social network to strengthen your social connections. Former Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, recommends spending at least 15 minutes each day reaching out to someone you love (outside of your immediate household) and actually listening to them. Don’t try to multitask, just spend 15 minutes actively listening and engaging in quality time with your loved ones. It will do wonders for how it makes you feel, maybe even give you a deeper appreciation for your relationships, making it stronger than ever before.

3) Mute/Block Accounts That Tend To Publish Unsourced Or Unconfirmed News.

Social all about algorithms. A little definition on that: “Social media algorithms are a way of sorting posts in a users’ feed based on relevancy instead of publish time.” — Sprout Social

So, the more you follow and click on “clickbait” titles, the more you’ll see content related to that because the platforms take it as a sign of your interest. This can create unnecessary aggravation so do what I like to call, “See something fake, block something fake”

4) Use Social To Help Your Community

When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. I’m personally delighted to see this saying come to fruition through all the people that are either raising funds, helping build supplies and doing whatever they can to help. Just a few days ago, I was delighted to see a broadcast message from a small business owner that has the materials and is on the lookout for people interested in sewing to collaborate and create suits and masks for our health care workers. Within a few minutes, she got responses from the appropriate people. It all happened on Instagram Stories and Viber. This is the undeniable power of social and its real-time ability. With all this extra time on our hands, dig into your social accounts to find people you can collaborate with and help your community.

5) It’s All About Credibility

I’ve used this word many times throughout this piece so in the spirit of credibility, I have decided to share a list of some trustworthy sources I’m personally following to get my daily dose of updates, as well as the platform I find easy to consume their content.

Disclaimer: these are just my top few, not an all-inclusive look.

6) Be Respectful Of What You Post And What You Share

It’s really as simple as that. I completely understand that people can get aggravated and turn to social media to “vent”, which is fine, that’s your call, but when you share anything about this pandemic, just take a second and pause before you post. Think about who could potentially be reading your post and make sure you share the appropriate disclaimers and reference your sources! We’ve become great at communicating how we feel these days, but sometimes it feels like we’re getting worse at considering other perspectives. So it’s worth taking that pause and keeping these pointers in mind before you hit that share button.

7) Major Social Media Platforms Are Working To Fight Coronavirus Misinformation

So the good news is, it’s not all on us. Facebook, Twitter, Google and many other tech giants are partnering to fight coronavirus fake news.” To give you an executive summary, here’s what they’re doing:

  • Facebook: banned advertisements and listings selling face masks, panic-generating ads or ads promoting virus cure.
  • The NHS has teamed up with Google, Twitter and Facebook to tackle fake news.
  • Google: providing easier access to NHS guidance and websites when someone searches for coronavirus, removing videos from YouTube platform and recently set up a 24-hour response team to fight misinformation.
  • DOH PH COVID-19 Viber group offers authoritative information, tips, resources and works towards separating facts from speculation
  • LinkedIn has added a new Trending News element, focusing on COVID-19, showcasing key updates from reliable accounts and leading health experts.
  • You also might have also noticed when you open YouTube or your Twitter app, there’s a WHO pop up (YouTube) and an aggregation of COVID-19 news (Twitter App): see below
screenshot: WHO pop up on YouTube homepage
screenshot: COVID-19 updates on Twitter

(Information Sources: https://www.businessinsider.com/facebook-google-youtube-microsoft-reddit-twitter-fight-coronavirus-covid19-misinformation-2020-3

Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/2020-03-18/facebook-fights-coronavirus-misinformation-video.)

Which brings me to this: I’d like to extend a massive THANK YOU to our front line workers and our health care workers who are leading the fight against coronavirus, as well as our unsung heroes who are the people handling the digital and social accounts of organizations such as CDC, DOH PH, NHS etc. that are working closely and tirelessly with hospitals to update the entire world on a real-time basis, and keep us on track on the coronavirus pandemic. Delivering accurate, timely information to the masses, is just as important in our fight against COVID-19. They do it in a commendable manner by spreading knowledge without spreading fear.

This is really a brand new time in which we are all navigating uncharted territory together. We can all use this time to be more conscious and accountable for things we share, personally or publicly. There is a silver lining in how the entire world is learning from each other, and I hope this continues in a positive and productive manner.

So there you have it! As much as I can, my goal is to create a healthy digital ecosystem for us all. Even with social distancing, social media keeps us together. So let’s use it wisely!

To borrow a few words from Malcolm Gladwell, “the values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with have a profound effect on who we are.”

I believe the same applies to your digital surrounding. Surround yourself with facts and positivity. We’re in this together.

About the Author:

Charu Misra works in the Recruitment and Corporate Learning industry as a Digital Marketing Consultant. Holding a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in Advertising & Marketing Communications, her professional career originated in New York City where she specialized in Content and Social Media Marketing. Charu is currently based in Manila, Philippines. Visit her online on Twitter!

Disclaimer: I have contributed this article in my personal capacity. The views and opinions expressed in this article are mine and are not shared, supported, or endorsed in any manner by another organization, company or employer which have been, will be, or are associated with me in a professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. This is a personal post.

Thoughts on social responsibility? I’d love to hear it. Feel free to drop it in the comments down below or reach out to me via Twitter.

ɪɴᴅɪᴀ ✈️ ᴘʜɪʟɪᴘᴘɪɴᴇs ✈️ ɴᴇᴡ ʏᴏʀᴋ ᴄɪᴛʏ // Digital Marketer, specializing in Social Media & Community Management