Posting less, posting more, and tired of it all: How the pandemic has changed social media (2023)

Mona, a tech executive in Boston, stopped using Facebook during the pandemic. She felt the posts she was seeing were incongruous with what was happening in the outside world.

“‘Look at me doing my Peloton workout’ or ‘Look at me, I got in shape,’” she mimicked. “Do you realize half a million people died?” said Mona, who asked us not to use her last name so she wouldn’t need permission from her job. Mona added that she thought the situation was especially bad in tech circles, where she sees a lack of “systems thinking.”

“It feels so silly to show happy stories in a pandemic,” Mona said. “Everything feels inappropriate.”

What’s appropriate and not for social media has changed a lot in the past year. One hard truth of the pandemic was that, in order to someday be together safely, we had to be apart in the meantime. For many, this meant that social media has become one of the only ways to be with friends and family, so people have flocked to platforms new (TikTok) and old (Facebook). The new normal, where many more of our daily interactions are mediated by screens, has made us change the way we behave on those platforms, with the messiness and realities of pandemic life crowding out some of social media’s posturing and perfection.

These sites have been a social lifeline as well as a way to get new information about the disease spreading across the globe and upending life as we knew it. Twitter, especially, shone as a real-time news source. The pandemic made social media, whose utility had languished and whose user growth was in decline, suddenly relevant. Some even mused that social media, though still under intense scrutiny for spreading misinformation and general toxicity, was good again. After years of social fragmentation, during which people were less likely to have watched the same shows or even share the same reality, people suddenly had something they could all talk about.

“One thing that brings people together is shared experiences,” Karen North, a clinical professor of digital social media at the University of Southern California, told Recode. “All of a sudden we all have a shared experience.”

Americans spent on average 82 minutes per day on social media in 2020, a seven-minute jump from 2019 and a large upward revision from eMarketer’s original forecast. The media measurement firm previously estimated that time spent on social media would remain the same. But in 2020, concerns about screen time — and “time well spent” — went out the window.

What’s less clear is whether or not people are posting more, but it seems to vary by person and platform. We asked Vox readers and people on our own social feeds to tell us how they use social media differently now compared to before the pandemic and received dozens of thoughtful responses about how that relationship has changed.

Some people told us that while they’re scrolling on social media more, they’re posting less — indeed, what’s there to post about when you’re stuck at home doing the same stuff over and over? Commonly shared milestones like birthdays and weddings were postponed or downsized, and people fear coming off as celebratory when there’s so much suffering, or at least so much judgment.

But some say they’re posting to social media more, as an outlet for pent-up creativity and an anodyne to the lethargy, loneliness, and boredom of isolation.

“The ability to connect via so many different platforms not only helps alleviate feelings of isolation but increases the sense of psychological comfort,” said Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center. “It makes people feel less lonely and less fearful to know they aren’t dealing with this alone.”

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Others found that social media helped them feel like they could do something about what was happening in the outside world.

Jordan Updike, a digital marketer in Indianapolis, Indiana, who “went from barely online to very online in a blink,” tried to convince people in his hometown about the realities of the coronavirus.

“They were coming from the foregone conclusion that this isn’t big deal,” said Updike, who had Covid-19 early in the pandemic and is still suffering from lung and heart damage a year later.

He previously treated personal time on social media “not as time well spent,” but that changed during the pandemic.

“I realized even if I have conversations with one person, there were hundreds if not thousands of people observing that conversation,” Updike told Recode. “If it meant 20 people changing their minds or taking this thing seriously, I felt that that was time well spent.”

Posting less, posting more, and tired of it all: How the pandemic has changed social media (1) Luke Sharrett/Getty Images
Posting less, posting more, and tired of it all: How the pandemic has changed social media (2) Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

All of this, of course, was happening amid historic events that also unfolded, at least in part, online. Black Lives Matter organized record turnout to protests against police violence, using social media sites and messaging platforms. By similar means, Capitol rioters plotted their deadly insurrection, egged on by tweets from former President Donald Trump. More recently, people on Reddit’s trading forum WallStreetBets brought about the astronomical rise — and fall — of GameStop and other meme stocks, upending previous conceptions of Wall Street in the process.

Many readers reported extremes in their social media use: periods of constant usage that ultimately led them to feel overwhelmed or anxious, which resulted in cutting off social media usage altogether.

“I found myself feeling insanely guilty and anxious,” Matthew Kiernan, a teacher in Florida who has stopped using Facebook and Instagram, told Recode. “I’m a member of a lot of education pages and groups, and so people seemed to be doing a lot of performative posting about the wonderful things they were doing in their classrooms with their students virtually. That didn’t really resonate with me because I truly felt like even attempting to do some of that was driving me insane.”

Working at a Title I school, Kiernan said, he was more concerned with making sure his students had a good enough broadband connection to access his lessons and with addressing their mental states, which suffered from living in a time with ever-present death.

The urge to delete social media has, ironically, been very evident on social media, where people have been increasingly talking about deleting their accounts, according to social listening company Brandwatch. July 2020 by far had a record number of monthly mentions of deleting social media, according to the company’s data, and rates remain accelerated. Part of that fatigue has to do with the fact that, while a good erstwhile replacement, social media is not as rewarding as face-to-face social interactions, according to Kellan Terry, Brandwatch’s director of communications.

“In the pandemic we’re constantly looking for that social stimulation,” Terry said. “Social media somewhat filled the gap but not wholly.”

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Fatigue was also a result of the pandemic lasting just way too long.

“There was a sense that we’d come out the other side,” Lore Oxford, global head of cultural insights at social marketing agency We Are Social, told Recode. “When that didn’t happen, people got overwhelmed.”

And 2020 was a really bad year for misinformation, with fights over politics and lockdown measures and mask-wearing all playing out on social media, and making it an even more toxic environment. Conspiracy theories that proliferated on social media caused real-life harm and turned many people off from it.

But complaints and posts decrying social media aside, overall visits to all major social media sites have continued to grow since the onset of the pandemic, according to data from SimilarWeb, which found visits to major social sites still far above 2019 levels. Even if we don’t like it, we had nothing better to do.

User growth was most dramatic on sites like TikTok and other social video platforms — what eMarketer principal analyst Debra Aho Williamson refers to as “social entertainment.” She says TikTok’s rise was in part a reaction to the negativity on Facebook, including polarization and rampant misinformation.

According to data from customer experience management software company Sprinklr, nearly three-quarters of mentions of “social media” on social media and news sites in the last year had negative sentiment. In contrast, the majority of mentions of TikTok were positive.

“People were looking for something to entertain themselves and not finding it as easily on platforms like Facebook,” Williamson said, noting that TikTok encourages more levity. “It forms connections in a different way, watching strangers talking openly about their lives.”

Indeed, that openness and authenticity has become one of the key hallmarks of social media in the Covid-19 era.

Less perfection, more real life

The pandemic has generally accelerated existing trends like working from home and shopping online. Another trend that sped up is the reversal, in some cases, of social media as an aspirational place of perfection. Whereas social media posts, especially grid photos on Instagram, have long been criticized for their unrealistic and idealized portrayal of people’s lives, there was less of that during the pandemic. Instead, things got a little sloppier: Houses were a mess, children were home and misbehaved, people didn’t wear makeup. And some of that made it to social media feeds.

“The less polished, more real side is appealing and is going to stay,” eMarketer’s Williamson argued. “The idea of the airbrushed, perfect influencer is probably a thing of the past.”

Nadia Ahmed, a sexual health physician in London who’s alternated overuse with deleting her accounts completely, told Recode, “I’ve also tried to not look at influencer accounts as much. In fact, barely, because it upsets me big time.”

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Oxford, from We Are Social, said she’s noticed fewer posts on Instagram’s grid. When people do post there, she says the posts feel more intimate and introspective than they had been.

Many have abstained from posting to not give the impression they were doing something they shouldn’t be — eating in crowded restaurants, hanging out in large groups — during the pandemic. When people do post outside of their homes, it’s often accompanied by a disclaimer that the activity was “Covid safe,” and the fear of being shamed in the comments is almost palpable. Indeed, many readers told Recode they avoided sites like Instagram because posts of people having fun and acting like there wasn’t a pandemic made them anxious and angry.

At the same time, some people have found solace in social platforms’ seeming move to more honesty, with people expressing disappointment and negativity, and complaints about isolation and the state of the world.

“People really want to share thoughts like that when people are similarly afflicted and right now everyone is miserable,” said North, the USC professor, saying that it’s a welcome development for many people who’ve had these thoughts but may have avoided voicing them on social media.

“The pandemic has normalized the negative side of life,” North said.

Social media has also proliferated with posts about people’s deteriorated mental health and sensitivity to others’ problems. Social justice slide shows dominated Instagram Stories, as people sought to take social justice actions online or at least learn about everything from defunding the police to mail-in voting to combating racism.

Inevitably, the platforms and types of content that people took comfort in during the pandemic were ones that felt the most real. People have reacted well to TikTok’s format, in which people add their own imperfect variations to viral videos. It also doesn’t hurt that TikTok videos are relatively short, which many people have found appealing.

Visits to TikTok’s website grew nearly 600 percent on average in 2020 compared to the year before, according to SimilarWeb. Meanwhile, visits to Instagram were up 43 percent, Twitter 36 percent, and 3 percent for Facebook, which is still impressive considering how massively popular the site already was. Average users now spend almost as much time per day on TikTok as they do on the No. 1 social site, Facebook, according to eMarketer data.

Disappearing posts like those pioneered by Snapchat have been particularly useful, since they lower the bar for how good or polished content had to be. Similarly, many people took to live-streaming on various platforms, where their unedited, real-time posts felt immediate and more authentic.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) livestreamed herself playing the popular video game Among Us on Twitch in order to get people to vote. Parenting accounts use Instagram Live to show their followers what living with children in the pandemic is really like. Friends livestream everything from stand-up comedy routines to cooking dinner.

The pandemic also saw people move increasingly to messaging apps or the messaging portion of other social apps, to create a more intimate setting.

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“When so much more of our lives are online, we can retreat into slightly more private spaces,” said Oxford. “Facebook was the public square. Groups and chats and Reddit are the bars and the clubs and community centers.”

She noted that US influencers saw a 100 percent growth in Instagram interactions in the week following lockdown orders. Their followers messaged them directly to see how they were holding up and to assuage their own loneliness.

During the pandemic, people have also flocked to niche social media based around common interests or other activities, what some refer to as social+. There people could find more meaningful connections than they could on general social media, with sites like Clubhouse, Nextdoor, and Goodreads all gaining traction.

Viewership of sites like Twitch and Facebook Gaming, where people can watch and communicate with others play video games, nearly doubled during the pandemic. Usership of Fishbrain, a social network for anglers, grew more than 60 percent in the US in 2020, bringing its American user base to 8.5 million.

What comes next on social

Livestreaming and social entertainment sites like TikTok will continue to grow as the pandemic continues, eMarketer predicts. The firm estimates that while time spent on social media might dip a little bit in the coming years, it will remain higher than before the pandemic.

In the meantime, social media has become more embedded in our lives than ever, and the increased reliance we’ve developed in the last year is likely here to stay.

“It’s hard to change a habit,” said Shaka McGlotten, a professor of media studies and anthropology at SUNY Purchase College. Still, McGlotten thinks there’s a chance for change. “I do think that there is going to be a kind of reckoning when we can go outside.”

Posting less, posting more, and tired of it all: How the pandemic has changed social media (3) Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images

What’s certain to gradually change is how we behave on social media, as our actions morph to meet our needs. Those who’ve felt like they have a toxic relationship with social media may have the chance to break out of bad habits, says Thomas Roach, a professor of cultural studies at Bryant University who recently wrote a book about intimacy on Grindr. It’s possible to embrace the alienation of being just a box on a screen: Instead of constant branding ourselves as individuals, it can be liberating to be one of the crowd, he said.

“We shouldn’t use social media to reproduce pre-pandemic normality, we should be using it to create a new normal,” Roach said.

As one Recode reader expressed, living through this pandemic could change our relationship with social media for the better.

“Last year, I used social media to keep tabs on how our country was dying,” she wrote. “This year, I use it to look for signs of life.”

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FAQs

How does pandemic affect communication? ›

The lack of training in communication skills and its influence on the management of difficult periods was another important finding. Communication in general deteriorated during the pandemic, especially during the initial waves.

How does social media help you in your studies in this time of pandemic? ›

Other social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, are linked to higher levels of student involvement and information sharing [53]. In addition to supporting student education, Web 2.0 tools can also help individuals overcome communication and writing difficulties. Social media can be used beyond education.

Why we should use social media less? ›

Studies show that people who spend a significant amount of time on social media experience increased anxiety and decreased self-esteem. Watching everybody else's milestones and achievements fly through your feed doesn't make you happy for your pals, it makes you unhappy about your own (seeming) lack of accomplishment.

How can I be less on social media? ›

5 ways to tame your social media use
  1. Keep apps out of sight, so they're out of mind. ...
  2. Use apps to help you limit your time on social media. ...
  3. Spend an hour a week on at least one screen-free hobby. ...
  4. Enjoy a phone-free dinner. ...
  5. Leave your phone outside the bedroom.

What is the social impact of the coronavirus pandemic? ›

Over the course of the pandemic, millions have lost jobs or income and have faced difficulty paying for expenses including basic needs like food and housing. These social and economic challenges affect people's health and well-being.

How does the pandemic affect your feelings? ›

During the COVID-19 pandemic, you may experience stress, anxiety, fear, sadness and loneliness. And mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression, can worsen.

How has social media affected people during the pandemic? ›

But the spread of misinformation on social media and other digital platforms has been deemed to be as much of a threat to public health as the virus itself. The problem of inaccurate information serves to undermine the global response to the pandemic by eroding public trust and marring attempts to control its spread.

What is the impact of social media on students? ›

It is easy to become addicted, and research shows that students who spend too much time on social media can suffer from poor sleep, eye fatigue, negative body image, depression, anxiety, cyberbullying, and more.

What is the impact of social media on the academic performance of the students? ›

Past studies have found that students who spend more time on social media sites are likely to demonstrate poor academic performance. This is because they spend time chatting online and making friends on social media sites instead of reading books.

What are the main negative effects of social media? ›

Social media harms

However, social media use can also negatively affect teens, distracting them, disrupting their sleep, and exposing them to bullying, rumor spreading, unrealistic views of other people's lives and peer pressure. The risks might be related to how much social media teens use.

Why does social media make us less social? ›

A recent global study conducted by Kasperksy Lab reveals that social media users are interacting less face-to-face than in the past because of this newfound ability to constantly communicate and stay in touch online.

What is the advantages and disadvantages of social media? ›

Top 10 Advantages and Disadvantages of Social Media
Pros of Social MediaCons of Social Media
People Can Connect Through Social MediaReduces Face-to-face Communication Skills
Good Source of Up-to-Date InformationFake News
Social Media Is Beneficial to EducationPeople's Addiction to Social Media
7 more rows
14 Jun 2022

What are the effects of spending too much time on social media? ›

Excessive social media use also has costs, including addiction, loneliness, depression, reduced self-esteem, and reduced ability to develop meaningful relationships.

How coronavirus has changed our social life? ›

The outbreak of COVID-19 affected the lives of all sections of society as people were asked to self-quarantine in their homes to prevent the spread of the virus. The lockdown had serious implications on mental health, resulting in psychological problems including frustration, stress, and depression.

What social impact means? ›

In essence, the definition of social impact means any significant or positive changes that solve or at least address social injustice and challenges. Businesses or organizations achieve these goals through conscious and deliberate efforts or activities in their operations and administrations.

What are the impacts of this pandemic in the different sectors of the economy? ›

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting public health and causing unprecedented disruptions to economies and labour markets, including for workers and enterprises in the forest sector. It has exacerbated existing challenges, with many enterprises and workers suffering as a consequence.

How does pandemic affect your thoughts and feelings about yourself? ›

Worry about your finances

If you're one of the millions who can't go to work, you're worried about your finances. Even if you have a nest egg to rely on, the uncertainty of when you'll get back to work or if your job will still be available are overwhelming stressors that contribute to mental health problems.

How pandemic affect the life of students? ›

Expectations for behavior and academic performance are known and familiar. When schools closed earlier this month students lost this structure and routine. Many were sent home with packets of assignments to complete but it is up to them to decide when and in what order they will do the assignments.

How the pandemic affect the students? ›

The pandemic had also caused psychological stress among the students, making it difficult for them to focus on studying. They expressed feelings of anxiety, burnout, loneliness, homesickness, grief, and hopelessness.

Does modern social media make people less socially active? ›

No – social media is not making us less social:

Due to social media, now we have the opportunity to connect with many people, even if they do not live in our area. Before social media, we could interact with people from either our locality or the places we go.

What is the impact of social media? ›

However, multiple studies have found a strong link between heavy social media and an increased risk for depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts. Social media may promote negative experiences such as: Inadequacy about your life or appearance.

How social media has changed our lives? ›

Social media has helped many businesses grow and promote itself, and has helped people find a better way to connect and communicate with one another. On the other hand, it's also provided many people with problems involving mental health, emotional insecurities, and waste of time.

What are the positive and negative effects of social media on students? ›

Positive and Negative Impact of Social Media on Education
  • Encourage Online Learning:
  • Enhances Academic Performance:
  • Enhances Creative Element:
  • Causes Distraction:
  • Impact on Health:
  • Reduces learning and research capability:

How social media influences students learning and promote positive change? ›

Motivate Online Learning

With the use of social media platforms in school, the students get motivated and fostered to learn. Educational videos on YouTube, easy access to e-books, online notes, and learning via video calls are major aspects that contribute to educational development.

How social media affect our life essay? ›

If the use of social media is not monitored, it can lead to grave consequences. It is harmful because it invades your privacy like never before. The oversharing happening on social media makes children a target for predators and hackers. It also leads to cyberbullying which affects any person significantly.

What is the effects of social media in academic performance of the senior high school students? ›

Reduced academic performance is one of the most important consequences of social networking overuse for students. The results of a study on medical students showed that students who used social networks and internet more than average had a poor academic achievement and low level of concentration in the classroom [36].

How can social media helps you as a student in improving your academic performance? ›

Lastly, engagement showed a positive impact on students' AP. Thus, this study shows that social media serves as a dynamic tool to expedite the development of OL settings by encouraging collaboration, group discussion, and the exchange of ideas between students that reinforce their learning behavior and performance.

How do social media affect you personally academically and socially personal? ›

When it affects personal life, there is damage in both professional and academic. Many studies have shown that social media has negative impacts on mental health causing signs of stress, depression, anxiety, etc. There are many cases registered in the cyber for misusing information and for cyberbullying.

How different media affect and impact your everyday life? ›

This is an Expert-Verified Answer

It disseminates data from one region of the world to another. People learned about their rights thanks to the media's impact. People can also use the media to learn how to exercise their rights. The media serves as a conduit between the government and the general public.

Has social media been a positive or negative influence on society? ›

The truth is that social media can also be beneficial for society. It can help individuals connect and deepen their relationships. Social media also encourages students to learn and grow. And it can empower businesses to build their audiences and boost their bottom line.

What are the positive and negative effects of media? ›

While it can provide a platform for your teenagers to express themselves, develop social skills, etc., it can also have some negative effects–instilling false messages, false beliefs, violent behavior, spending too much time in front of a screen may cause health and development issues.

Is social media making us less social opinion essay? ›

Social media can cause people to cut off their relationships with loved ones, the media can be a very toxic community. It can become harder for individuals to learn and understand basic emotions since they are so connected to the digital web, they do not get to have real face to face communication.

Does social media causing less face to face communication? ›

Speaking to someone face to face allows a person to pick up nonverbal cues — such as smiling, arm crossing and body positioning — that help people communicate. But because social media lacks this face-to-face contact, research has found that people have adapted to compensate when communicating online.

Is social media decreasing social skills? ›

Using social media excessively affects individuals' social skills when having a face-to-face conversation. Phones should be used to keep one occupied while he/she is bored and alone, not when he/she is with friends, family, teachers, coaches, and so on.

Why is social media an important part of society today? ›

It has made its importance in our lives in a very short period. It has become necessary daily activity for people. Social media enables its users to stay in contact by making communication easier. Sharing pictures, videos, expressing thoughts, ideas, and documents are just one click away.

How can technology help us in this time of pandemic? ›

Online Grocery and Contactless Payment

Even though the pandemic forces us to stay home, our need for groceries will not be affected. Grocery shopping might be a task some people tend to avoid, even if most grocery stores ensure proper safety protocols. As a result, online grocery shopping has become more popular.

How does technology help us overcome this pandemic? ›

Digital platforms help build more resilient societies to the pandemic, as people can now access official information, enroll in e-courses, take online jobs, send mobile money and even receive telemedicine—no matter where they live.

How do online platforms and sites contribute to ease the pandemic nowadays? ›

Online platforms can play a role in mitigating the negative effects of future shocks causing severe disruptions to physical economic activity. They can ensure, at least in some sectors, continuity in production and market exchanges while respecting physical distancing measures.

How does technology change the lives of people before and now? ›

Modern technology has paved the way for multi-functional devices like the smartwatch and the smartphone. Computers are increasingly faster, more portable, and higher-powered than ever before. With all of these revolutions, technology has also made our lives easier, faster, better, and more fun.

Why is Internet important during pandemic? ›

The digital divides related to internet use and affordability were highlighted by the pandemic and also emerged in new ways as life moved online. For all Americans relying on screens during the pandemic, connection quality has been important for school assignments, meetings and virtual social encounters alike.

How is information technology affecting our lives and in the current era? ›

Information technology is important in our lives because it helps to deal with everyday dynamic things. Technology offers various tools to boost development and exchange information. Both these things are the objective of IT to make tasks easier and to solve many problems.

What is the best solution to solve this pandemic? ›

Help Stop the Spread of Coronavirus and Protect Your Family
  • Get a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Wash your hands often with plain soap and water.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a mask when around others.
  • Avoid crowds and practice social distancing (stay at least 6 feet apart from others).
3 Feb 2022

How do you stay motivated while we are facing this pandemic? ›

10 tips for staying motivated during the pandemic
  1. Start your day with a plan or schedule. ...
  2. Squeeze in shorter bouts of activity. ...
  3. Practice healthy and mindful eating. ...
  4. Be “social”. ...
  5. Notice how good exercise makes you feel. ...
  6. Get enough sleep. ...
  7. Relax and recharge. ...
  8. Reward yourself.
12 Feb 2021

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