The current coronavirus pandemic is causing disruption to normal life which, for many people my age and older, is unprecedented. Already we are seeing public events, sporting fixtures and even blockbuster films being postponed or cancelled due to the threat the virus would pose for public gatherings. Italy, France and the Republic of Ireland were among the first states to have taken quick steps such as imposing travel restrictions and forcing non-essential businesses such as restaurants to close. Germany also closed its borders, following in the footsteps of the USA, while leading airlines continued to cut and downsize their services in the interests of customer safety and a fall in demand.
With the government having urged people to work from home if at all possible and stressing the need for those with symptoms to self-isolate, the pandemic can truly be said to have affected every aspect of life. Life in the 21st century relies upon the easy exchange of information and services, and restrictions to travel and face-to-face interaction put this in jeopardy. However, a beacon of hope to minimise the disruption to life comes from an unlikely source: social media giants.
Relationships between governments and social media corporations tend to be strained at best, with issues over the extent of regulation and amount of taxes which they pay. However, the Covid-19 outbreak offers the opportunity for social media bosses to ease this by making a positive contribution.
Meetings, business dealings and all manner of necessary interactions can be conducted online without face-to-face contact, so social media corporations are now integral to ensuring that the world’s economy does not grind to a halt. While health and safety must be the first priority, anything which minimises disruption will make governments’ jobs infinitely easier and can be used to negate the effects on the economy.
As a university student, I saw teaching being modified to take place online, while offices around the world have taken to using software such as Microsoft Teams and Skype to allow their staff to work from home. Without this, thousands of universities and workplaces would be forced to close altogether so the economic issues currently facing the UK could have descended into a full-on crisis.
It remains to be seen how the epidemic will continue to affect citizens’ way of life, with the situation changing constantly. However, one hopes that consultation between the government and social media bosses can result in even more useful ways being developed to make the epidemic easier on everybody.
After recent years have seen social media companies and governments increasingly at odds, the Covid-19 pandemic offers a chance for social media to make a change for good. Social media can be a positive influence on people’s lives; now is the chance to show that it wants to be.
By Mark Docherty