A few months ago, I pondered the impact of social media – particularly in the run up to the UK General Election – and how media consumption has altered over time. Recent events have made me revisit that question. The country-wide lockdowns imposed across the globe highlight the sheer magnitude of the situation.
For those non-essential workers among us, this may be our second, third or fourth week spent alone and indoors, and yet our sense of community has never been stronger (in my lifetime, at least). And I’m not just talking at a local level – although that’s a good place to start!
Having (perhaps foolishly) joined the scores of people renting Contagion on Amazon Prime Video, my hopes for a “we’re all in this together” approach were somewhat dashed by the scenes of riots and looting. The pharmacy scene - whereby all hell breaks loose when those queueing are told supplies of an in-demand drug were running out – hit home particularly hard. There are fine balances pertaining to supply and demand at the best of times; how will our nation cope in the worst of times?
Aside from the aptly named “Covidiots” stock-piling toilet paper, there have been many wonderful, selfless gestures shared on social media that have buoyed my spirits and restored my faith in humanity. Stories of communities doing all they can to keep everyone afloat: clients still paying their dog walkers, window cleaners and gardeners, neighbours posting #ViralKindness notes through letterboxes offering company for the lonely or to shop for provisions, and residents purchasing cook-at-home meals from local restaurants.
You’d likely be the first in line to help a family member or friend – doing whatever is necessary to keep them healthy, safe and sane during this crisis. But what about helping people you’ve never met? What about helping other people with their children in the face of struggling to look after your own?
The response from certain celebrities, influencers and entertainers has been thoroughly refreshing. They have put the wellbeing of others above their own agendas – whether that be making money from content, sponsored ads or something else entirely. You may argue that their actions are successfully raising their profile, but so what? If they are helping even a small number of people navigate this new world, then it has all been worth it.
Let’s start with Joe Wicks. With UK schools closing their doors, The Body Coach immediately stepped in to keep the nation’s kids fit and healthy. At 9am each weekday, he hosts a free workout session on his YouTube channel which has already proven to be a huge hit with parents and children alike (me and mine included!)
Following Joe’s lead, the likes of Carol Vorderman, Myleene Klass, David Walliams and Radio 1’s Greg James have all got in on the act of sharing their content – for free – to support desperate parents and keep the little’uns entertained.
I, for one, am indebted to them.
Whilst the idea of leading a PE class with my kids first thing in the morning sounds like good fun right now (and I’ve enjoyed taking part in a few of them!), I’m sure my feelings will change in a week’s time when I’m on yet another three or four-hour long conference call, feeling utterly shattered, over-worked and overwhelmed.
Social media has undoubtedly played a pivotal role in the dissemination of such information. The call-to-action on Joe’s website perfectly demonstrates this:
One more thing! I really need your help to spread this message. So please please share this with everyone that might like to get involved, and together we can help keep the nation moving.
The sheer volume of initiatives – local, national and international – present too mammoth a task for any print newspaper to do them justice. Every minute or so, there is another “breaking” story on news outlets – how the death toll has risen, what new measures are being put in place, the latest advice on how to lessen the spread… these “big news” stories need to take centre stage with the BBC, Sky News, The Times, Guardian, Daily Mail – if for no other reason than getting the message out there: this is a gravely serious global pandemic, stay the f**k home. Or, more politely put by the UK government: “Stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives”.
News outlets – television, radio and print – don’t have the time to tell you about that pop-up bakery around the corner, or the self-isolated singer putting on a gig in their sitting room to keep your spirits up. But social media does. In fact, for many of us, we have more time than ever before.
What’s more, social media allows us to interact with the news in ways like never before - we are a part of the story. We can instantly share our experiences and expertise, and help others in doing so. I have seen at least a dozen connections on LinkedIn already offer help with homework for those of us home-schooling – and all for free!
In 2016, an article in The Guardian detailed how platforms such as Facebook could take as much as £450m away from the UK news industry by 2026:
A report by strategy consultants OC&C predicts that news producers, especially newspapers, are still to feel the full impact of the shift by younger generations to using social media to find their news.
OC&C says that, based on the impact of platforms on other mature media markets such as music, about 30% of annual digital revenue could go to platforms. That would mean the likes of Facebook and Apple taking between £200m and £250m a year this year, rising to between £400m and £450m from 2026.
An Ofcom report from July 2019 further outlined the changes in public news consumption:
While TV is still the most popular way for people to access news, its use has fallen since last year, from 79% to 75% of adults. At the same time, use of social media for news has risen from 44% to 49%.
…While use of Facebook for news has remained stable year on year, more people are using Twitter (up from 14% to 16% since last year), WhatsApp (up from 10% to 14%) and Instagram (up from 9% to 13%).
…just 1% of respondents said they solely use newspapers, while 13% exclusively use the internet. Around 14% said they use all four of TV, radio, the internet and newspapers.
Whilst traditional media – for the most part, anyway – hold the upper hand in terms of standards and credibility, digital apps and platforms are proving their worth with every passing day. Not for the sultry selfies, lifestyle snaps and “fake news”, but for their ability to connect us when we need it most.
So, here’s to Twitter! To LinkedIn, WhatsApp, FaceTime, Skype and Zoom… To YouTube and Instagram… thank you for bringing us closer together when we’ve never been further apart.