Stuck at home, people turn to social media to connect in new ways

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With states across the U.S. enacting shelter-in-place orders, many individuals are turning to social media to stay connected and entertained during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Platforms, like Twitter and Instagram are helping people fight off the loneliness during this time of social isolation, as people share video games, books, virtual tours and free online classes to pass the time. 

“Me and my friends are scattered around the U.S. and we have a lot of fun just having a day every week where we just hang out,” Watson said. 

Discord’s servers have experienced  outages due to increased usage, according to an article by the Verge. Other people are creating virtual movie nights on video sharing apps like the new Google Chrome extension Netflix Party. This allows people to watch a show or movie together and chat about it all from their homes. This allows families and friends to watch and joke around just like they are together, said Laura Gordon, a mother from Texas.

“We live pretty far away from our families as it is, so we’ve been using tools like Facebook Messenger and Skype for years now to stay in touch, which has made this transition a little bit easier for us,” Gordon said. “Still, we’re trying to get creative now in how we use some of the social media tools.”

The Baldwin Street Grille, a bar in Wisconsin, has created a virtual bar for regulars, just so they can stay connected, said Matthew Grimm.

“A lot of us were out (that last) Saturday night, but it’s not super-packed on Saturdays and we kept our spacing,” Grimm said.  “We were all pretty realistic it might be the last Saturday night we had the bar.”

Wisconsin’s Governor Tony Enders urged residents to stay home on March 21 and officially put in place a Stay at Home order on March 25. This was hard for Grimm and his fellow Baldwin Street Grille goers. 

A lot of the regulars are on furloughed from work until Wisconsin reopens non-essential businesses, so this virtual group really helps them, Grimm said. With the bar closed, there were so many things Grimm said he realized he took for granted, but at least they can still stay connected. 

Others are using social media to entertain others. Musicians like Hozier, John Legend, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ariana Grande have been livestreaming concerts for fans. Some comedians and poets have been performing virtual open mics on video apps like Skype, Twitch and Zoom.

Others are creating book clubs and writing clubs to encourage each other to workshop their work. Snap To Applaud, Like Hipsters is a lit-reading Facebook group that allows members to read their poetry or snippets of other literature to one another, said Jessica Kristine, a member of the group. A similar group is helping each other build codes and new video games. 

Others are using social media to share tips and ideas of things to do. Susan Clause has been sharing some of these ideas online. Even the simple things can keep you entertained, she said. 

“I’ve taken to hiding things like cards, books and candy around the house and encouraging others to find them,” Clause said. “Kind of an adult Easter egg hunt.”

She joked that when she wants her husband to get off the couch, she hides the remote.

Parent groups have been coming up with fun ideas to keep their kids entertained, including having dance-offs and letting them have video chat playdates. Websites like PBS and Scholastic have daily newsletters with fun activities. 

Others are using this time to learn new skills and take free classes online. Sites like Skillshare are offering two months free classes to students. Playwright Lauren Gunderson is offering free writing lectures. People are using this time to enhance their skills. 

“I can’t take my shitzu to the groomer so I plan to teach myself how to shave the dog,” Clause said. 

Social media is helping people survive through this time and move forward as a community, even if it’s virtually. But most importantly, it allows people to brighten each other’s days a bit as the situation worsens, Sarah Simmons said, a nurse from Tennessee. 

“It’s kind of like showing up to your friend’s house and having a girls’ night but from a few hundred miles away,” Simmons said. “Sending messages and sharing positive interactions on Twitter helps ease the anxiety a bit.”

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