Features

Staying social while social distancing

By Dimithri Wijesinghe

Social distancing has forced people to find ways of entertaining themselves at home. While dealing with boredom is the least of many of our worries, it is something felt by those who are fortunate enough to not be lacking basic necessities – and they handle this by turning to social media to stay occupied.

One of the better things that has come out of this hyperfocus on social media is some positive trends that have emerged during these times of social distancing, such as online classes, skill sharing, motivational TikTok dance fads and Instagram (IG) Live videos, workout challenges, and art challenges, while many have added colour to our otherwise droll feeds by sharing the “recent past” on these platforms.

Undivided by geography, we are connected. It can be that it doesn’t really matter we are all stuck at home; rather than wallowing in isolation, we are evolving to fight the solitude.

Instagram Live

The trend that is most prevalent is IG Live as even those with audiences numbering just a couple of hundred followers have turned to live streaming as a way of interacting with the world.

Music

Cold Sweat

Sri Lanka has had its fair share of live streamers. However, at this time, local artists in particular have taken it upon themselves to rid themselves and their viewers of boredom by performing live shows from their bedrooms or wherever they are holed up. We saw popular YouTube cover artist Yohani De Silva and a few friends performing an impromptu jam session, and even taking requests as they went along.

We spoke Cold Sweat, who on any regular Friday night would have been at Inn on the Green giving a killer performance to a packed audience, totally enthralled by their dynamic stage presence; they too turned to IG Live.

Speaking about why they decided to go on IG Live, they said: “The point was to make people stay home and not feel the whole quarantine thing.”

“The response has been really great. People have been sharing and inviting people who don’t even follow us,” they said.

Many people tuning in to watch their live stream shared messages echoing somewhat the same sentiment – they’re glad to have this medium of interaction.

Workouts

Speaking to Tarja De Silva, a dancer and fitness dance instructor, she shared that she has turned to working out like she has never done before, and together with her husband Alberto, they are now streaming live workout sessions where people can join in and exercise together. 

“Since we were at home and realised most of us couldn’t get to a gym, my husband and I thought why not share some live workouts for everyone,” she said, adding: “Of course, these are free sessions and we do not intend on taking any money from people at a time like this; we initiated this to keep people on their feet and fit.”

She said the response from her audience has been positive so far and that they are really encouraged by it. “We will keep going for as long as possible,” she stated.

Inspiration

Sharan Velauthan

Another unique attempt was by Sharan Velauthan, a motivational online personality whose brand is all about being positive. He began conducting IG Live streams with online content creators and personalities via insightful interviews that have been highly engaging.

Speaking to us about what inspired him to give this a go, he said: “I’ve been suffering from bad anxiety because of everything going on. And I thought there has to be others out there going through the same thing.”

He said that the reason why he chose to do it via IG Live is because it is temporary. “In 24 hours, it is gone forever, just like Covid-19 will be temporary. We should be together and support each other during this time,” he said.

Sharan said the response received has been amazing. “People have been finally speaking up and saying how happy they are about the topics we are talking about – kindness, mental health, domestic abuse, social and cultural stigmas, etc. So many people cried watching the video between my mum and me. We are making a difference,” he added.

Just for fun

Of course, not all trends have been profound as some have been simply for fun – like the dalgona coffee trend that went absolutely viral. One might argue the drink was breaking down cultural barriers as the easy three-ingredient recipe and its appealing creamy texture was inspired by the South Korean dalgona candy and it has become a sensation.

Instagram has contributed a number of other movements; the “Instagram Push-up Challenge” where people were doing push-ups on Instagram to keep themselves fit during quarantine is one such example. Those who completed the challenge would then nominate others to take it on.

There’s even been some educational content being shared, with many students joining online classes and Korean pop stars BTS and their peers from Big Hit Records launching a programme on the mobile app “Weverse” where they teach Korean language, mathematics, and other subjects as they practise social distancing.

How not to use social media in a time of crisis

While the positivity has been overwhelming, there’s been a darker side to it as well. As usual, there have been those who took to social media to be insensitive and unhelpful at a time of global crisis.

Shanuki de Alwis from the Community Crisis Response Team-LK (CCRT-LK) – the initiative which previously carried out a service to deliver essential goods to daily wage earners, the elderly, and immunocompromised persons – shared how there have been those demanding that they deliver goods to them when they are not in any dire need, disregarding the fact that they will be taking away from someone who is genuinely struggling.

She also shared how there have been those who endlessly complain about “non-issues” whilst in privileged positions. This has been the global consensus too as celebrities have expressed their “quarantine meltdown” from their comfortable well-stocked mansions while many have been in truly calamitous positions, simply struggling to stay afloat. Such disconnect and lack of empathy has been grating.

There’s also been abhorrent uses of social media such as the irresponsible drive for clout where in early January, teens were falsely claiming on TikTok that they had the virus, and now more recently with a TikTok user sharing a video of herself licking an airplane toilet seat and captioning it the “Coronavirus Challenge” with a few others following suit. TikTok has since removed these videos.

There has even been a space created for racism with regard to the virus, where even US President Donald Trump and senior members of his administration have been referring to Covid-19 as the “Chinese virus”. However, to curb the stigma against China, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation) has clarified that “viruses have no nationality” and that the “fight against coronavirus needs science and not stigma”.