Opinion: How are Gen-Zs Reacting to COVID-19 on Social Media?

Our generation is living through a pandemic – what are the different reactions to this on social media?

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Photos by Marjorie Mays

Words by Marjorie Mays, Designer

We are living through history right now, and that is hard to comprehend. Our generation has never experienced anything like this before – how are we reacting to it? The coronavirus has caused panic, confusion, fear, activism, and, oddly enough, humor. Our generation is experiencing all of these emotions and we are using social media to express them.

Humor and Memes

We are an empowered generation, there is no question about that. However, one reaction that is common from Gen-Z when dealing with huge events is humor, and the viral app TikTok is the perfect outlet for this. Today, it is hard to find someone in our generation who doesn’t have TikTok on their phone. Short 15-60 second videos can go viral in a matter of hours on TikTok, and COVID-19, a truly global issue, is the perfect topic to post about because everyone watching can relate to it. Scrolling through the TikTok “for you” page these past couple weeks, you are likely to come across a coronavirus-related video. Often these videos are jokes about being in quarantine, advice on what to do when you’re stuck at home, jokes about everything going virtual (classrooms, graduation ceremonies, fire drills), the new fashion trend of hazmat suits, and much more. 

Although these videos are often easy to laugh at, it is important to remember the severity of the situation. While making these jokes can bring a little light-heartedness to the situation, where is the line between light-heartedness and insensitivity? On nearly every video with the tag “#coronavirus,” TikTok has added a link that says “Learn the facts about COVID-19.” This link takes you to a page with facts, tips, Q&A, and mythbusters about the coronavirus provided by the World Health Organization. 

While TikTok is a very common place for jokes about the novel coronavirus, they are present on the other social media platforms too: Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and more. These platforms reach millions of people who are all experiencing similar things right now, and can all relate to the same humor. 

Spreading Awareness

Since many people in our generation seem to go to humor in times of distress, it is important that we also have those who spread awareness seriously through social media. Sometimes it is as simple as sharing a post with a short message such as “Wash Your Hands” or “Stay Inside.” Other times, an in-depth description from a person living in one of the epicenters of the virus circulates my feed. Photos showing the vacant streets of Italy or masked faces in airports are shared on Instagram stories to open people’s eyes to the severity of the situation.

A current viral video helping to spread awareness is a project by the Instagram account “@olmaster” that asked Italians to submit a video giving advice to their past self. This video has served as a warning for people in other countries heading down the same path as Italy to take this more seriously. Many kids and young adults are doing their best to spread awareness on the issue and help people realize that drastic actions are necessary, even if we don’t completely understand it ourselves.

Low Spirits

COVID-19 has dramatically altered our daily lives. Events we have been looking forward to for a very long time, school, and sports seasons are all being cancelled or postponed due to the coronavirus. Everything is changing. Not only that, but some of our peers don’t have access to regular meals, wifi, or a safe daily environment (there have been some accommodations for this luckily). 

Seniors just entered the part of their high school years that they have been envisioning since the start, and it’s basically cancelled (see “Dear High School Senior”). Nobody knows what is going to happen with prom, final sports seasons, senior trips, graduation, and more. Students have taken to social media to share their thoughts and there is a collective agreement that a three week or longer break from school sounded great at first, but now we just want our daily routine back. We want our events to stop being called off. We want to be able to leave our house. We want to see our friends. It is comforting to see on social media that we are not alone, and that many people our age are feeling the same way.

Of course there is sadness surrounding the tragedy of the virus as well. Thousands of people dying in a matter of weeks can be hard to comprehend, especially if we don’t know anyone personally affected by it. Some people have shared stories of losing their loved ones to the virus on social media, bringing a realness to this situation. 

Our generation has used its voice tremendously in the past decade, and we will continue to do so in times of global distress. We are still young, so we will joke and struggle to understand things, but we are also so powerful with our words and actions, especially with our elite knowledge of social media. Through this time when social interaction is supposed to be limited or is restricted, social media is the place to share your thoughts and interact with people.