COVID-19: A Social Response to an Anti-Social Virus
By: Matthew Merry
The current COVID-19 crisis has seen an unprecedented wave of governmental restrictions that would be more at home in an apocalyptic film than in the 21st Century. The main response is that of social isolation (the act of reducing social interaction and restricting contact with people outside of the family home (Public Health England, 2020)); however, humans by our very nature are social beings. We have spent many years developing what is commonly referred to as ‘tribe culture’ (Braun and Plog, 1982). These cultures have developed through thousands of years of interactions and within a matter of months Covid-19 has halted many of these social interactions (e.g. schools, businesses, music & sporting events and many others). However, it is when times seem darkest that the light will shine brightest.
Tribe theory is a theoretical perspective on how groups socially congregate and communicate (Braun and Plog, 1982). It concerns itself with how groups form around common interests or issues, as well as how they are structured and operate. Tribes have traditionally formed around a geographical location; however, since technology has enabled global communications, tribes have been able to form solely round an interest or an specific issue, with no geographical restrictions.
Social media is often seen as a place where people can make conflict and turmoil without any repercussions. It is often seen as a battle ground for political, religious and social distain for each other. However, taking recent events into consideration, social media has become a solitary social connection to others that we so often crave.
Within the current remit, the population looks to our respective governments for help and information.
The tri-colour ‘Stay at home, Protect the NHS, Save lives’ on the outside uses a clear and straightforward message that is easily remembered. However, on closer inspection, it shows that this COVID-19 crisis is bigger than politics and party lines as the government’s message combines 3 key colours: Orange, Blue and Red. Interestingly, these are the main colours associated with the 3 main parties in the UK: Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and Labour respectively. Although subtle, it makes messages like these shareable across party lines as they have also removed the HM Government logo and title (see Fig.1) that adores most of the UK’s government’s social posts. This message has also been reproduced in multiple languages (see Fig.4); thus, not to restrict information access to people whose first language is not English. Within the UK, there is a wide range of nationalities and thus, many spoken languages. After English, Welsh and Polish are the most widely spoken languages, followed by Punjabi, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati, Arabic, French, Chinese, Portuguese and Spanish (Lingualinx, 2020).
FIG.4 (UK Government, 2020)
The biggest player in the social distribution of information by far is Facebook, with over 2.5 billion active accounts (Noyes, 2020) it serves as a social contact point for over 30% of the global population (Global population: 7.8 billion (World Population Review, 2020)) and taking into account the people who are not allowed to access Facebook (e.g. in China (Population: 1.4 Billion), Iran (Population: 83 Million), Syria (Population: 17 Million) and North Korea (Population: 26 Million)), this is over 39.6% of the relative global population. This is why Facebook has become the default to convey any and all information on the current COVID-19 crisis. Although not required to, Facebook has taken many steps to promote good practices in regard to COVID-19. This includes the creation of a dedicated section to the on-going crisis:
Additionally, Facebook has teamed up with official sources of information (e.g. NHS and Public Health England) to reduce the amount of ‘fake news’ regarding the virus. This is especially important as a recent study (Gallotti et al., 2020) found that more than 40 percent of posts about COVID-19 on Twitter, another major social media platform, were posted by automated bots disguised as people. Facebook has recently announced that users of the platform will start to receive messages if they have viewed false information about COVID-19 (Politico, 2020). This is in an effort to kerb the number of half-truths, lies and rumours surrounding COVID-19. Some of the rumours that have been going around include that the current roll out of 5G mobile networks has contributed to the spread of COVID-19.
It would be easy to perceive and promote a lot of negative information during this time. However, it seems that the social collective of the UK has decided against this, and instead they are championing people and businesses that refuse to give-in during this time of great turmoil. This was not an orchestrated pre-planned effort, it was primarily the greater public deciding that this is where we are, this is what we have to do, so let’s deal with it with resolve and good spirits.
In times of crisis, it is common for tribes to close ranks and support each other. This can be seen with current social trends, including the rainbows and other displays of social unity. The rainbow has become the ‘icon of hope’ for the current crisis. The rainbow has always been associated with peace and hope; although in the current time, it has truly transcended this, as at the moment you would be hard pushed to find a residential street in the UK without a rainbow somewhere. This is a truly unique social iconography that has been adopted by the masses. Along with the adoption of rainbows, there have been some other displays of social unity, including organised clapping, which is currently taking place every Thursday evening at 8pm (GTM). This is a social sign to outwardly show that you appreciate the work carried out by front line staff. This display is incredibly unique as it brings people out of their houses at a set time to show individual appreciation in a social context performed at a distance.
In times of crisis, championing often occurs. This is the act of rallying behind a figurehead, whether that is political, spiritual or personal. This is very much the case with Captain Tom Moore who initially wanted to raise £1,000 for a charity that helps key workers who are on the front line of the virus. His aim was to walk 100 laps of his garden and raise some money. However, thanks to championing and social media Captain Moore surpassed his total by raising £28,648,675 to date (Moore, 2020). Captain Moore has become a rallying point for many reasons; firstly, he will be celebrating his 100th birthday at the end of this month (April 2020), he fought in the Second World War and he is extremely humble about what he is doing.
The “let’s get through this the best we can” attitude has even extended to companies. Fast food has become a staple of British culture and many have had to close their doors to customers, both for collection and delivery. However, in the case of McDonalds and Ikea (see Fig.6 and Fig.7), they have actually released recipes to some of their most favourite menu items.
There is much talk of things ‘getting back to normal’. However, in the case of social interaction and social media, maybe we should not just let things get back to normal. Tribes learn and develop over time, sometimes quickly and sometimes not so. Let’s not just use this crisis as a speed bump in the road of human existence, but make it a teachable moment to make the road smoother and easier for generations to come.
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