A remarkable thing happened on Facebook: Marc Rebillet, a French-American DJ and producer, had been playing live shows on the platform for the past two days, when in the middle of his set, he blanked out. Viewers, about 5,000 of them spread around the world, watched him panic, stumble, unravel, till a friend called him on the phone and talked to him, calming him down. He resumed playing as messages of support flooded in — almost each one said they knew exactly how he’d been feeling. It was strange to watch this play out on social media, seen to be a cesspool of mediocre exchanges, where harmful rumours often masquerade as information, where cancel culture reigns supreme. But right now, if you’re not online, where are you? If you’re not online, how are you?
This past week or so, ever since the global lockdown to impede the spread of COVID-19 was initiated, a possibility has been making itself felt: Of a return to various platforms for solace and a sense of community. Even as some people let their anxieties sharpen their prejudices, the uncertainty of the corona crisis, the prospect of staying indoors for days on end, may also be triggering empathy and compassion on social media. The virus has completely dismantled normalcy. And for some, that includes their prejudices, their inherent mistrust of the other, their need to use differences to identify who they are as a people. COVID-19 is forcing people to hit reset in the way they perceive each other, and, in some important ways, they must let it.
You are not alone in this as long as you have social media. Of course, there will be reason to continue to be suspicious of it — because the nature of the beast will not change no matter how many lives are disrupted. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time till everyone returns to the old ways. But till then, there is a tantalising possibility of using the space for its original purpose: To tell people that they have more in common with each other than they know.
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