A Look at Social Media during the COVID-19 Quarantine

A version of this article was included in Issue 001 (May 15, 2020) of the Idea Exchange Quaranzine.

It’s been almost two months since Premier Ford declared Ontario to be in a state of emergency. Our lives have been turned upside down, and many people are turning to social media to connect (and commiserate). Each of our experiences is unique, and taking a look at what people are posting and sharing on social media is a great way to peek into their perspective.

Initially, our feeds were filled with odd phenomena such as toilet paper panic buying and the stockpiling of canned foods. We saw photo after photo of empty shelves, endless line-ups, and carts filled with dried pasta and frozen vegetables. After a time, such reactions lessened, although it’s still impossible to get a bag of flour or packet of yeast at your local grocery store.

Some more fortunate individuals are not too downcast about the prospect of a forced home vacation. Their posts may include home exercise goals, reading lists, and resolutions to catch up on sleep. Parents who are enjoying more time with young children are posting charming family vignettes with puzzles, crafts, and board games.

There is a prevailing pressure to be productive during this time at home. “Shakespeare wrote King Lear while he was in quarantine!” they say. And we do see posts from people who appear to be making the most of this time by writing, composing, learning a new skill, or baking fresh-baked sourdough bread. Beautiful art is everywhere, thanks to a burst of creativity and inspiration that many are experiencing during this quiet time at home.

Thanks, Jeremy.

Of course, the disruption to daily routines has had a negative effect on many people. Social media posts highlight the financial struggles many are experiencing due to layoffs across the country. Over half of respondents in a recent poll said their mental health has worsened during quarantine. Hashtags such as #StayStrong and #StayPositive are circulating as we try to support each other from a distance. We have lost all sense of time, resulting in a number of memes including the Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey who wonders what a weekend is.

Maggie Smith as the Dowager in Downton Abbey

One encouraging social media trend to come out of this quarantine is the increased support for local businesses. The hashtags #buylocal and #supportlocalbusinesses have become more popular as we avoid conventional grocery stores, instead opting for grocery delivery or curbside pickup. This author hopes this increased support for local businesses will continue post-quarantine.

Despite the negative impacts of COVID-19, social media continues to be a place of humour and joy for many. Some fun memes have included The Last Supper reimagined as a Zoom call; Ina Garten enjoying an oversized cocktail that involved an entire bottle of vodka; and scenes from The Office, Groundhog Day, and Animal Crossing. Tik Tok has exploded with comedy skits and dance video trends. Hashtags such as #Covember (post-quarantine facial hair – think “Movember”) have become extremely popular. We’ve even developed entirely new words such as “quarantini” (a quarantine martini) and “drivecation” (a vacation in your driveway).

The Last Supper reimagined as a Zoom call.
Ina Garten enjoys an oversized “quarantini”.

In the years to come, we may look back on some of these social media trends with astonishment or a shake of the head. It’ll certainly be an interesting snapshot for historians and analysts. But no matter how long this quarantine lasts, social media will always be a place for us to connect, complain, and comfort each other.