SOCIAL MEDIA IN A COVID-19 TIME: A REFLECTION WITHIN THE “DIGITAL RELATIONS” PROJECT

The limitations that are occurring in all countries of the world, in particular the necessary and exhaustive quarantine in excess now almost everywhere, followed by the social isolation of masses of individuals, set in motion a series of persistent reflections that affect many disciplines: the already tangible consequences affect both the well-being of the individual, whether physical or psychological, and the economy, the rule of law, politics, administrations, etc.

Sociologically and psychologically speaking, the current pandemic state offers a wealth of data and information of great interest and utility, also for more effective and efficient management of the emergency.

Last year, with the "Digital Relations" project, our partnership with a consortium of organizations from Germany, COORDINATOR : Systeme in Bewegung e.V. , Bulgaria, Belgium, Poland and Spain, investigated the effects that the digital world can and is having on European families.

Given the exceptional nature of a global event such as the health emergency related to the spread of the Covid-19 virus, we cannot avoid rethinking the study from a completely new perspective. The obligation to remain in our homes has led to an immediate increase in the use of social networks in all areas of the world.

Statistics provided by Facebook, for example, reveal that in Italy (which, as we know, was the first country within the European Union and in the Western world in general to be severely attacked by the virus), since the beginning of the emergence the platform has registered:

  • A 70% increase in user time;
  • A 50% increase in the use of messaging services;
  • A 1000% increase in group call duration, i.e. with three or more participants;
  • A doubling of Facebook and Instagram stories;
  • Also calls and video calls on Messenger and WhatsApp have more than doubled.

In the light of the data provided here, it would be interesting to continue the study carried out with the European project "Digital Relations" by analysing how our interviewees have changed their habits in the use of the social and communication instruments available on their devices, paying attention also to the differences in what and at what level each country has adopted containment measures.

There is no doubt that digital communication is currently proving to be of fundamental importance and useful, especially for those families whose members live in different cities or states. In this case, we could ask ourselves if the interviewees have maintained their habits or have preferred some functions at the expense of others: are video calls more popular than calls or chats? How often is a family member reached? Basically, what is the age of those who mainly use these tools? Do older people, who are generally not used to opening up to new technologies, try to use these devices more than in the pre-crisis period?

It would also be interesting to investigate how group video calls are used: Do we connect more with your family or, given the quarantine and the now more constant presence of family, with friends or colleagues?

Another point, now difficult to handle, but still common worldwide: through which channels do you search for news and information? In fact, fake news are on the agenda: a search by EuVSDisinfo, the European Commission's unit that studies and contrasts fake news on the web, has detected a trend towards the devaluation and destabilisation of the European Union, implemented by authors whose origin was identified in sources close to the Kremlin and the Chinese regime, with the consequent improvement of the local and global image of Putin and Xi Jinping (https://euvsdisinfo.eu/eeas-special-report-disinformation-on-the-coronavirus-short-assessment-of-the-information-environment/). So how do European citizens deal with this misinformation? Is the search for an authorised source a priority for them? Are our respondents falling into the trap (unfortunately frequent) of false information, spread mainly on social channels such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram? Monitoring the trend of this phenomenon is of fundamental importance in order to have a clear view of what the perception of the Western world as we know it today is, acting in advance so that Europe does not suffer such shocks irreparably.

In conclusion, how did interviewed people adapt to the way they work from home, generally called "smartworking", if they were asked to continue their work? What were the difficulties encountered? What are the positive aspects detected? Will this forced approach to technology lead to permanent changes in work management, or is the preference to return to old habits?

One last thorny question, already addressed and which should be addressed again, especially to the more skeptical interviewees: today and in light of what we are all experiencing, is a life without digital relationships possible or would it be better?

In this perspective, one can only hope for a new dialogue, as constructive as possible, between different generations, which will allow adults who are not used to reducing their fears and anxieties through a better knowledge of these new communication tools, and for young people, sometimes too focused on their mobile phone, to rediscover and appreciate the dimension of everyday life in their family environment.

Author: Marta Buono

Tranlation: Francesca Carbone.

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