We Should Be Social Media Distancing, Too.

It’s been almost a month since COVID-19 hoisted me from my dorm at Temple University and plopped me back in my parents’ house indefinitely. Days are beginning to run together, I haven’t seen my friends in weeks due to social-distancing rules, and optimism is waning steadily. Like most people, I’ve been spending an embarrassingly large amount of time on my smartphone. I’ve discovered how much people are controlled by social media and the Internet in the last four weeks as a result. We’re drawn to our devices during this pandemic, but it’s probably a better idea to limit screen time. 

Digital detoxes aren’t a revolutionary idea; people have been saying screen time is bad for mental health for years. But in this new dystopian world we’re living in, going online is different. When you unlock your phone, you’re constantly inundated with information about the virus which can cause an incredible amount of anxiety. 

In “Coronavirus News on Social Media Stressing You Out? Here’s How to Handle The Anxiety” in the American Heart Association News, pandemic reporting and mental health are discussed: “The ever-shifting news has some people constantly checking their phones for updates […] ‘It’s really the perfect recipe for anxiety and panic,’ said licensed clinical psychologist Debra Kissen of Chicago.” Kissen continues to argue that uncertainty, especially the uncertainty everyone is feeling now, is the definition of anxiety. 

Influencers and online personalities are another reason to limit screen time during self-isolation. They’ve always promoted unrealistic and stylized lifestyles online, but during a pandemic, it’s even more maddening. In a recent article from Vanity Fair titled “Is This The End of Influencing As We Know It?” Kenzie Bryant says, “It’s hard to kick back and consume a little mindless fare […] whatever inspiration influencers offered will no longer cut it. We’re all a little too spent to aspire to anything except making it through.” In isolation, people aren’t seeking an aesthetically-pleasing Instagram feed; people are seeking hope and authenticity. 

Above everything else, the biggest problem with social media right now is the spread of misinformation. The Internet has always been a place where stupidity can shine, but ignorance is one of our biggest enemies right now. In “How Social Media Is Shaping Our Fears Of– And Response To– The Coronavirus” from Time Magazine Online, Alejandro De La Garza argues, “Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which didn’t exist or barely existed during past major outbreaks, are facilitating important conversations about the virus, while at the same time allowing sensationalism and misinformation to spread.”

Proponents of a digital-heavy diet in isolation will argue that it’s the best way to stay connected to friends, and it provides people with the latest information. I agree we should be staying in touch with family and friends, especially since isolation can be so lonely. However, the fastest information isn’t always the best information, and breaks from the screen are beneficial even if it means a short time without friends.

Ultimately, no one but you is going to police the hours you spend on social media in isolation. Mindlessly scrolling through Instagram or Twitter can be a comfort for people who haven’t been outside in weeks. But honestly, quarantine is creating a questionable internet environment, and maybe we should be social media distancing, too. 

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