Everywhere you turn, the news, your friends and your employers are talking about COVID-19, the disease being spread by the novel coronavirus. Faster than most people expected, many businesses have closed, social distancing measures have been imposed and schools have shut down. Universities are no exception to the new regulations and classes are now conducted online. These changes have created a lack of human interaction which many people find difficult, realizing that they cannot hang out with friends or talk to many people in person. In some cases, people are also having to stay away from their family. There has been a surge of talk about the struggles of social distancing as people find themselves without the flood of regular human interaction most experience in a day. In the midst of this sudden lack of human interaction, social media platforms have gained a greater prominence in people’s lives. Instagram in particular is constantly blowing up with new challenges, polls and memes about social distancing. These challenges seem to be a new way for people to feel connected with one another while being unable to hang out in person.
These challenges range from posting workout videos to sharing funny photos to spreading positivity. They begin when someone posts a story with the challenge. Then they tag friends, asking them to participate. The friends who choose to do so then tag even more people and it spreads until the challenge becomes common. Once it is, almost everyone on Instagram has either seen it, heard about it or participated in it. A few that have been circulating recently include the “Do 10, Tag 10,” which has people all over the country and the world doing pushups and getting some exercise done in a fun and interactive way, and the “Until Tomorrow” challenge, which asks people to share embarrassing or unattractive photos of themselves for 24 hours. Another one involves posting people’s Instagram posts and handles on your story in order to support others.
Kawika Kalama (‘21) said: “I’d say the most powerful aspect of social media is its application as a tool to connect communities across the world. With the global pandemic lately, it seems that connecting with one another is again at the forefront of how social media is used. It’s just nice seeing this refocusing.” He is one among many who enjoys seeing the fun activities people are coming up with on Instagram and other social media platforms.
Joel Westby (‘21) mentioned that he thinks the Instagram challenges have unity in mind but added, “I see solidarity within many small groups and groups that are more likely to participate in challenges anyway.” However, despite this, he said, “That being said, they’re definitely a net positive thing!”
Instagram, much like real life, often connects those with similar interests or those who already know each other due to the ability to choose who to follow and who your followers are, leading to the group distinction Westby talked about. While this is noticeable, it is also important to realize that friend groups are managing to stay connected and in-touch by way of social media.
As with all things social media, there are differing opinions about these challenges. Some people enjoy them, others find them useless and still others do not care either way. In an Instagram poll of 38 Willamette students, 66 percent stated that they believe the Instagram challenges show solidarity and help people interact and stay connected. The other 34 percent were mostly indifferent, not thinking the challenges did anything out of the ordinary besides create a way to fill time.
Daniela Camacho (‘20) said that she does not necessarily think they make people feel connected, but that they are instead “just something to do now that everyone is bored.”
Even with this view however, one can see that it is something to do; no matter the motive behind it, the challenges are a way to draw people in. These games are a fun way to connect the world in the midst of a pandemic that is putting stress on everyone. Sharing activities can remind people that, although social distancing is incredibly important, there are ways to relieve some of the stress of being isolated.
Social media has been a central part of life for a while now, and due to COVID-19 it has gained a new centrality in people's lives, offering a space to reconnect and share thoughts. Instagram is one of the many platforms that is being used to fill time and remind everyone that they are not alone. Like everything, Instagram challenges are not for everyone, but they offer a fun way to interact with friends and even make new ones while still practicing social distancing.