Global society is going through a rather confusing, and even depressing, time given the recent outbreak of COVID-19. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently issued a stay-at-home order for all residents of Michigan, and the University of Michigan has been strongly encouraging students to leave Ann Arbor to return to their homes. Self-quarantine has become an everyday vocabulary word. Not many of us have been through anything remotely close to what is currently happening in our lives and as we all try to understand and adapt to these circumstances, social media culture has been surprisingly helpful. TikTok and Instagram in particular are promoting self-quarantine in the most lighthearted — and therefore perhaps appropriate — way possible, and at least people are finding some entertainment while maintaining social distance. This trend of social media bringing people together in a virtual way is certainly worth our attention.
TikTok is one of the fastest growing social media platforms to date, with more than 1.5 billion downloads worldwide. The Chinese video-sharing social media application is dominating the market and continuing to sweep the Generation-Z population globally off their feet with its unique filters and effects. As the pandemic stopped people from meeting their friends or reporting to work, TikTokers worldwide took advantage of this and started to create more content at home. There are more than 7 billion views on TikTok videos with “#quarantine” and the numbers are only expected to grow as the virus spreads.
Most of such videos capture moments in the creators’ lives of self-quarantine and are aimed to be funny. Some videos poke fun at the online class format most universities have adopted; in one, a student presents a Barbie doll instead of their face as a form of attendance, while another has a computer graphic aurora in the background to make it look like he is in Antarctica. Another about a family enjoying creative dinners from one of their children also received millions of likes. More content like this is giving people who are actively practicing self-isolation something to laugh about in their now relatively less eventful lives.
On the other hand, there are some TikToks that send a rather serious message. People from areas struck the hardest by the virus, including Wuhan, China and various parts of Italy, created videos to let the rest of the world know how those areas were surviving and raised alarm to those who might not be taking the pandemic seriously enough.
Instagram is a more familiar social media platform for many adults. Ever since the importance of self-quarantine had been emphasized by public health authorities like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Instagram has put forth a new trend of its own called “Stay Home.” Influencers and athletes with millions of followers started creating new at-home challenges, such as doing as many pushups as possible in one story.
A good friend of mine from U-M’s club soccer team tagged me in a challenge to juggle a roll of toilet paper as if it were a soccer ball. These challenges might seem easy and simple, but as I tried multiple times to make the best “TP juggling” video, I soon realized it was one of the best workouts I had done for the past two weeks. I never went regularly to the gym during the semester but I love playing soccer and I tried my best to play for at least a couple of hours every week until the self-quarantine. Being on the verge of sweating for the first time in weeks trying to perfect the challenge reminded me how it felt to stay active. An Instagram challenge, which some might view as pointless, made me think about ways to not only stay safe but also stay healthy. It was also a good way to connect with some of my friends because I got to nominate the next five users to continue with the challenge. I never thought I would enjoy recording myself juggling toilet paper and posting it for the world to see, but I did.
TikTok was created in China and Instagram is one of the most used apps worldwide. Though I have been exposed to mostly U.S.-made content, I think it is fair to assume that this trend is widespread across the entire world. Looking at people having, or at least trying to have, some fun during such confusing times was mesmerizing. Social media and its culture are not only effectively promoting self-quarantine through informative short videos and simple workout challenges, but also keeping us mentally alive with something to laugh about and friends to talk to — at least through our phones.
Min Soo Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.