As stay at home orders begin to tighten once again, American’s best option for experiencing the outside world and staying connected to one another is through social media. A study showed that engagement over 30 different social media platforms has increased by 60%. 1 Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp use has increased by 50% in countries that have been hit the hardest by the virus. 1 Twitter use has gone up 23%. With this increase in social media use, our consumption of negative media has increased as well. 2 We have been subjected to the virus, and through social media have been able to see the direct devastation that it has caused. Absorbing all this information with its focus on death, for many of us, it has triggered a psychological concept called Terror Management Theory. 2 This theory suggests that in order to alleviate ourselves from the fear and stress of looming death we cope by attempting to connect ourselves to a broader social entity by pursuing something with meaning. 2
George Floyd’s death was not the first at the hands of systemic racism and police brutality, but his death occurred at a time when our society was desperate to belong to a collective that provided them with meaning and purpose. It was this need that propelled this civil rights movement forward, giving rise to protests and gathering people together who may not have joined in a pre-COVID world. Social Media users present need for morality, values, and purpose in society has led many to reject any perspective that opposes their own and shout out anyone who is not in pursuit of this collective.2 This has led to an eruption of posts exposing individuals for their racist and anti-COVID behaviors. Most popular are the “Karen” videos exposing middle-aged women who are perceived to be “entitled or demanding in a way that beyond the scope of what is considered appropriate for the situation.”3 We see these Karen’s in grocery stores throwing tantrums because they have been asked to wear a mask or pointing a gun at peaceful protestors. This type of exposure also applies to public figures, known as to cancel culture, which is the practice of withdrawing support when a public figure has said something that is deemed offensive or objectionable. Most recently this has applied to Justin Bieber who has been accused of sexual assault. His response to the allegations was to file a 20-million-dollar defamation lawsuit against the women who made this accusation.
The uproar in exposing has its benefits but can also lead to an excess of harassment and bullying. Many people seen in these videos have lost their jobs and been shunned by their communities. People want to believe that they contribute purpose; that they can bring about change in the world and do more than being controlled by a pandemic. Exposing is their way of doing so. For as long as we remain in a social distancing world, Americans will spend the majority of their time on social media and will continue to find ways to satisfy their need for purpose.
Julie Takash, JD candidate at Southwestern Law School class of 2021 and Employment Law Society treasurer.