The drama of the Handforth Parish Council Zoom meeting compelled me to reflect on the refuge social media has provided during this pandemic. Now more than ever, social media is an outlet for rage, exasperation, and bad news, but also a vital resource for escapism, inspiration and – most importantly – community.
We’re communal beings by nature. We’re not meant to live under house arrest for months on end, so this last year has been an incredibly lonely time for many of us. We’ve found ourselves digging deep into our resources for patience, resilience, optimism (and sanity).
It seemed like the world ground to a halt overnight; and like when Google goes down and we flock to Twitter to see if it’s trending, we knew we could rely on social media to be there through the chaos and uncertainty. We knew our friends would be there, we knew there would be memes. And where there are memes, there’s hope.
Social Media can get a bad rap. It has its flaws and can be misused. But over the course of the last year, I’ve been continually reminded that social media isn’t the booming voice of a few individuals. Each of us plays our part in it and possesses the power to shape its texture and rhythm (be it of a sea shanty or otherwise.) As with most things, you can make of it what you will and take from it what you need.
I’ve seen this to be true in my life, through my own work in community management – which is to closely observe social media’s conversations and trends – but also through the evolution of my mum’s work in the bedroom next door. A Facebook version of her NCT postnatal support group had been something she’d planned to do for years. And then suddenly it was the only option and like so many, she adapted. I’ve proudly looked on as she’s mastered the art of social media, sharing resources, designing assets, using hashtags, and realising the beauty of what we call in the industry ‘UGC’, but what she sees as mothers sharing their concerns and success stories. The group has flourished, now counting over 200 members, which is amazing considering the real-life venue has a capacity for 20. I can only imagine how daunting it must be bringing a baby into the world right now, a time when the support and shared experience of others are more important than ever. It’s clearly a lifeline for isolated new mums and would have been impossible without social media.
As a new year begins and the days blend into weeks, amidst the unrelenting restrictions and world-weariness, there have been some incredible moments of light relief, which the world of social media has devoured whole. One particularly unifying moment was the legendary Handforth Parish Council zoom meeting. An astonishing and absurd moment of virality at its best, it became the topic of the day, in every Teams chat, in every WhatsApp group, in every mealtime discussion.
#YouHaveNoAuthority was trending on Twitter and, on the news, reporters were journeying to Handforth as if it were a sacred pilgrimage – interviewing locals through car windows who found it equally hilarious. The memes, the merch, the TikTok parodies are inspired, who knows where it will end? But we do know that we all needed this. Watching this baffling collision of outrageous unprofessionalism with valiant determination to retain decorum was cathartic. So much so that on Wednesday 3,500 people tuned in to watch the next installment of the meeting, and it wasn’t without drama and threats of being muted.
Why was it such a powerful bonding experience? I think it showcased the very best and worst of ourselves. It captured a moment in which we’ve moved past Zoom fatigue and have reached a new low, clinging to a sense of order when there is none: Like there are no roadmaps, there are also no standing orders for life. And from it all emerged a heroine: Jackie Weaver, now a household name, the subject of limericks, she’s even been immortalised as a cake. The world of social media flew to defend her authority with a sense of absolute righteousness, in the spirit of complete ridiculousness.
February has been a strong month for viral moments: the Weetabix moment, the tearful Zoom cat who earnestly tells a sympathetic judge he’s #NotACat.
Anyone looking down at earth right now would see beans on Weetabix, lawyers as cats, four lads in jeans singing a sea shanty, and think we’ve totally and utterly lost it. Can we blame them? I for one, spent a large part of my afternoon filming a sliced banana with a tripod and ring light for a TikTok video. This is not the answer I gave in my first job interview when they asked, ‘Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?’ But here we are.
It doesn’t surprise me that TikTok’s popularity has soared because its ethos is all about stepping up and joining in. The creativity the platform enables never fails to amaze me and, at its best, it reflects our immense capacity for finding entertainment even when the world is upside down. Each trend is as expressive as the next, sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes life-changing. (How many life-hacks have you adopted during the pandemic? I’ll never poach an egg in the same way again). But for me, every video seems to say ‘I refuse to sit here and feel alone and disconnected. I’m determined to retain shared experience in whatever form that needs to take.’
The ‘moments’ of the past month are nothing new, but I do think they highlight the power of the collective human spirit which has come to manifest itself in new ways during this extraordinary year. One positive we can take from it is the knowledge that social media has a unique malleability and reflective quality which can be of immense value in darker times. Ultimately, these moments bring with them a sense of solidarity and connection: a constant reminder that we aren’t as alone as we might think.
Lydia Thurlow is a senior account executive, at 33Seconds.