Spring weather shimmers outside, but aside from a brisk walk, you can’t go anywhere or see anyone. Classes are online; convocations are cancelled; and friends are physically distant. For many students, this is life in the early COVID-19 era, an endless shift between final assignments and four-hour Netflix sessions.
To break the routine, you reach for your phone and scroll through Instagram, and that’s when you see it. Ashley Tisdale, Sharpay from High School Musical, dancing to “We’re All in This Together.”
In the wake of COVID-19, Tisdale is just one of many celebrities flocking to Instagram. Where some sing, others dance. No matter the style, their efforts are helping entertain fans, encourage social distancing, and brighten our moods in a time of uncertainty.
First there was Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, who played a half-hour Instagram Live concert under the hashtag #TogetherAtHome. Soon after John Legend hosted his own virtual concert, taking song requests from fans and serenading them with soothing vocals.
But Instagram’s biggest show was D-Nice’s “Club Quarantine,” which surged to a record 160,000 live-streamers and drew everyone from Jennifer Lopez and Justin Timberlake to Michelle Obama and Mark Zuckerberg.
While many celebrities sang and played music, others entertained in different, and sometimes strange, ways. Little Women’s Florence Pugh cooked butternut squash soup for us. Rapper Cardi B ran through a giant Jenga tower. And Ellen DeGeneres cold called people in her phone, reminding us just how famous her friends are.
Actresses Amy Adams and Jennifer Garner started #SaveWithStories, where celebrities read children’s books over Instagram TV. It’s an initiative that raises funds for under-privileged children and helps parents juggle work and childcare. It’s a gracious move by people who have the status and means to make large differences, a bandwagon that others are hopping on.
Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds pledged one million dollars to help feed lower-income families, whom are most vulnerable in this coronavirus environment. Likewise, soccer stars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo each donated over one million dollars to Spanish and Portuguese hospitals, providing protective gear and ventilators to treat rising patient numbers.
But amid all the unity and kindness, it wouldn’t be the internet without hot takes and misinformation. Singer and actress Vanessa Hudgens questioned self-quarantine over Instagram Live, citing death as inevitable. Meanwhile, Ant-Man actress Evangeline Lilly claimed she refuses to self-isolate, suggesting coronavirus is an oppressive political hoax. Then there’s whatever Madonna’s doing. Let’s just say it involves a bathtub, rose petals, and rants about “The Great Equalizer.” COVID-19 shows us, if anything, the power of publicists.
Despite a few sour apples, Instagram remains overwhelmingly uplifting and informative. In concert with celebrity efforts, the platform added new stickers encouraging people to “Stay Home” and support non-profits. It also rolled out Co-Watching, which allows friends to scroll through photos over video chat, a previously solitary experience, now live together. Gone are the archaic days of direct-messaging private meme accounts.
But Instagram’s real power lies in educating adolescents about social distancing. Teenagers are the most dedicated user base and, according to some surveys, the most casual social distancers.
This blasé attitude stems from what psychologists call social contagion, the transfer of beliefs and behaviours among peers. If your friends hang at the park, you will too despite what your parents say.
By promoting #StayHome stickers, more adolescents will buy into self-isolation, and their friends will too. Conformity also increases in the face of authority. Many adolescents view celebrities as authoritative figures. It seems strange but using Instagram can teach important behaviours and information for teenagers who might otherwise ignore their parents.
Celebrities filming their personal lives is trivial when nurses work 24-hour shifts and expose themselves to viral infection. That said, we can’t discount the pessimism and loneliness people experience. Amid the volatility of infection rates, Instagram offers a momentary reprieve from the serious world around us. It’s like one giant sleepover of live concerts and dances, relatable memes and throwback Thursdays.
Social distancing sucks. It goes against the inherent nature of human beings. By connecting online at home, we’re fostering a virtual sense of community. We not only suppress COVID-19’s spread but feel a little happier and some normalcy doing so. As Sharpay would say, through the highs and lows, the uncertainty and changes, we’re all in this together.