The Utter Cringeworthiness of Scrolling Through Instagram During a Pandemic

Let’s normalize the social-media Covid disclosure

Photo: Markus Winkler/Unsplash

For health journalists like me — and, I suppose, for basically any well-informed person who believes in science and cares about public health and, like, the greater good — social media has become an utter minefield. (Social media has always been a minefield, so this is really saying something!) Everywhere you look there are alarming behaviors and questionable, or nonexistent, personal protective equipment.

Even in person, saying something to a stranger not wearing a mask, or wearing one improperly, feels uncomfortable at best, bear-poking at worst. And, look, we know that shaming individuals for bad pandemic behavior really only makes them feel stigmatized and drives them further away from what they should be doing.

So I’ve scrolled past these images of parties and maskless fun and said nothing. But here’s what I would like to say:

Hey bb! Your eyebrows look amazing! FYI a face shield is a supplement to, not a substitute for, a mask!

OMG the view from your hike is so beautiful, also just a heads up that a mask with a valve does not prevent the spread of infectious diseases!

So awesome you had a negative Covid test before hanging out with those friends from out of town, hope you guys had an awesome time and also that you quarantined before combining your bubbles because one negative Covid test does not mean you don’t have Covid!

Awww, so fun that your cousin got married! She probably shouldn’t have invited your grandmother but her dress was GORGEOUS!

I can’t believe your baby is old enough to play soccer now, looks like such a great first game! Where in God’s name are everyone’s masks; the coach isn’t even wearing one, holy shit! Goooooooool!!!

Listen, I like to assume the best in people (*glances sideways* …sometimes…) and I do think that, by and large, the folks in my life are doing as well as they can with all of this. But whatever your Covid-avoiding habits may be, social media can send a strong message — one you may or may not actually want to send — and never tells the full story. We’re all making risk calculations all the time and following really complicated decision trees that involve a mix of legit science, personal risk-reward analysis, random gut-checking, and probably a little bit of “fuck it”-ness. That’s okay, and understandable, and human.

But it’s also complex and difficult to convey to your friends and followers. And when it comes to public health, depending on the size of your audience, the message you’re sending may have an even bigger impact than what you’re actually doing. After all, even if you quarantined and tested on the right day and bought the world’s most expensive air purifier and did everything else correctly before whatever bubble-collapsing you’ve opted to do, your friends and followers don’t necessarily know that. So here’s what they take away: “This person I know/admire/respect is having a birthday party/tropical vacation/karaoke night. It must not be that big of a deal! Maybe I will, too!”

So let’s normalize the Social Media Covid Disclosure. Remember how at the beginning of all this, people would post a photo and say something like, “So fun to have a socially distanced hangout! We removed our masks for just a moment to take this photo but stayed apart and masked otherwise!”? And then that started to feel a little clunky and kind of fell out of favor? BRING IT BACK. Make it cool! Please!

Some questions you might consider proactively addressing in your own posts:

  • If you traveled, how did you keep yourself, and those in the place you traveled to, safe? How did you manage potential SARS-CoV-2 exposure on the plane or on the road? Did you test before leaving and after arriving, before going inside businesses, restaurants, or other people’s homes?
  • If you got together with friends and family that aren’t in your bubble, did you quarantine for two weeks beforehand? Did you (also) get a negative test before coming together?
  • If you visited family or friends outside of your bubble but took a photo together, how long did it take to take the photo? Were you distanced, masked, and outdoors for the rest of the time?
  • If you went to a large event, was it outdoors? Were the tables spaced very far apart? Was everyone masked?
  • If you hung out indoors but didn’t bother with pre-hangout quarantining and testing, were you wearing masks? Did you keep the windows and doors open? Do you have a really great air purifier?

Let’s also consider that it’s totally acceptable for us to just… not post photos of gatherings at all. Eliminate the need for the disclosure entirely. Instead, we can use our online spaces to share useful Covid-related information: testing centers with short lines, the cute masks we just bought, ways to get involved with food banks and local mutual aid programs to help those in need. Let’s do anything else (huge fan of makeup tutorials and Avatar: The Last Airbender memes over here) — or nothing at all.

We can do this.

Editor and writer. Past: Elemental, Real Simple, Refinery29, SELF. Certified personal trainer; prenatal and postnatal exercise specialist. Cat & person mom.

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