School of Communication, Media & Politics

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Social media during a crisis and how we stay connected

April 03, 2020

As many across the world shift to working or studying from home and physical distancing, it can be easy to feel socially isolated. SFU communication professor Peter Chow-White, who studies how we use social media, says that needn’t be the case. By informing and connecting us, social media can play a central role in any crisis.

“Social media has become incredibly important for many different reasons,” says Chow-White, “from authorities giving out information, people gathering and sharing information, to all of us connecting with one another.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly changes, with new information being released each day, social media is a key tool for authorities and traditional media sources to quickly and easily distribute accurate information.

“Our social lives came to a grinding halt and our social norms had to shift,“ says Chow-White, noting that as social beings, we naturally turn to social media to help us understand why these norms have shifted.

“We’re used to being content creators, not just consumers, and in times of crisis, we do what human beings need to do, which is connect.” But he cautions that we also need to use social media responsibly, by following the advice of experts and looking at established news outlets. Online tools and resources, such as those recently compiled by SFU Public Square, can help with navigating content shared through social media.

“Especially in times of a pandemic crisis, or a pandemic like this, we need those reliable sources,” he says. “We need to be more aware of what we’re reading and what kind of information we are consuming.”

Our social connecting can help in serendipitous ways. Word about the daily 7 p.m. cheers for healthcare workers has spread throughout neighbourhoods across Metro Vancouver thanks to social media, drawing many to participate—including Chow-White.

He says initiatives like this all over the world can help those who are physically distancing to maintain social relationships and connections to their communities, while still doing their part to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Most importantly, Chow-White advises us to “Be active, be critical, but at the same time, stay safe and stay connected to each other.”