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[67th Anniversary Special] Empowered by pandemic, social media become new habitus in contactless society


In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, people are spending more time on social media with their various devices to entertain themselves and stay connected during self-isolation or lockdown periods.

When the coronavirus outbreak worsened in late February in South Korea, health authorities called for stronger social distancing measures to prevent the further spread of the virus.

Choi Young-rock, a 28-year-old man living in Gyeonggi Province, still wanted to keep in touch with his friends. He turned to social media.

“I had an Instagram account, but I was not actively using it until COVID-19,” Choi said. “Since the virus outbreak, it has not been easy to ask people to hang out in person. So I thought social media was the best way to stay connected. It is easy to see what other people are up to during self-isolation periods.”

“I use social media quite often nowadays because I spend more time alone. I have also seen people, who were not social media users like myself, creating accounts and beginning to use social media since the virus outbreak,” he added.

While many already used social media as a means of sharing their days and communicating with others, some began to utilize social media for getting information and finding online gaming friends.

“The amount of time I spend on YouTube and Twitter saw a remarkable increase,” said Han Ji-hee, a 24-year-old woman living in Seoul. “I usually spend a total of about six hours on YouTube and Twitter each day.”

“Especially after the strengthened social distancing guidelines were introduced, I play a lot more games at home. So I search for gaming strategies and find people to play game with me on social media,” she added.

While the pandemic has brought us closer to a contactless society, social media is providing a way to stay in the loop.

“I started using TikTok to know what is going on around the world -- getting real time visuals during the monsoon season and watching the explosion in Lebanon,” said Jung Ga-ram, a 27-year-old man living in Seoul. “Through TikTok, I try to know what is trending like what kind of dance is popular among young people.”

When asked if there has been a change in the amount of time he spends on social media since COVID-19, Jung said, “Going out much less these days, I use it more. I see how my friends are doing on social media and talk to them through it. I feel rather closer with them now.”

According to Nasmedia’s report in April, eight out of ten internet users were found to be using some form of social media. Korea’s near-100-percent internet penetration rate has made it hard to find anyone who does not use social media. A report from Opensurvey in March showed that 90 percent of the respondents said they had used YouTube within a month, followed by 78 percent for Naver Blog and 58 percent for Instagram.

The rise of social media has been evident in the country for the last decade. 48.2 percent Koreans used social media in 2019 compared to only 16.8 percent in 2011, according to a report from the Korea Information Society Development Institute.

With more people using social media and seeing the amount of time they spend on social media grow, the upward trend appears to continue or even accelerate further from now.

“Social media has emerged as a tool to build connections with the society and create relations,” said Kweon Sang-hee, a media communication professor at Sungkyunkwan University. “Accordingly, its users have come up with a new way to empathize and share with others through social media.”

Pointing out that the post-coronavirus era will stay as a contactless society, Kweon added, “Social media will become a new habitus for its users and play a role that brings virtual reality into existence.”

It is not just Korea or a few countries that have witnessed the social media wave. In 2010, a little less than 1 billion people across the globe used social media, according to German online statistics portal Statista. By 2020, the total number of active social media users recorded 3.6 billion worldwide -- almost half of the entire world population. To put it into perspective, that means either you are using social media now or the person next to you is likely to be using it.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only sped up the growth of social media. The GlobalWebIndex’s coronavirus research in July, which surveyed internet users across 17 countries including the US, UK and India, found that 43 percent of respondents said they have been spending longer periods of time on social media during quarantine or lockdown periods. About half of them said they have been spending significantly more time on social media compared to their pre-virus behavior.

By Kan Hyeong-woo (hwkan@heraldcorp.com)
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