Revisiting Mass Media Amid COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the world more than World War II and has spread to every continent except perhaps Antarctica. Several approaches and preventive measures were adopted by the countries such as, halting international and national flights, shutting down international borders, online and hybrid education system, limitations on hotel industry, suspension of retail trade, restrictions on local transport, and bans on mass movement.
The drastic countermeasures have jeopardized the world economy in general and individual lives in particular. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s 2020 report projected that the most vulnerable will continue to suffer and smaller businesses and entrepreneurs are likely to go out of business. The prediction became evident as children and youth from less fortunate background and less qualified workers continue to struggle to learn and work from home, with other ongoing damages. Many have lost their jobs with disappointment to finding new workplaces. Consequently, mental health crisis began to spread across the world, with psychological effects.
The case of Pakistan is not any different from other parts of the world. While the hospitals were overburdened with infected patients, with challenges of poor healthcare, and shortage of basic medical equipment, the government was indeed successful in controlling the first wave with the smart lockdown initiative. It included identifying COVID hotspots across the country and isolating those areas.
Despite the fact that mass media has become a one of the primary sources of information and contributed to the COVID-19 infodemics, the use of internet has increased tremendously. Before the pandemic, Asia alone had 50.7 percent of all internet users with approximately 2.3 billion internet subscribers in number. China had the highest percentage (37.1 percent) of internet users within Asia. By March 2020, the number of internet users increased to 904 million in China. Surprisingly, the larger percentage of users (21.5 percent) were the young adult population. Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA)’s annual report 2020 indicates that the internet consumers in Pakistan, spanned 90 million with a broadband diffusion of 42.2 percent.
According to Faraz Azhar, Google Asia Pacific’s industry head for South Asia, COVID-19 created a desire in people to connect with wider community. People consistently posted about their lives, talking about physical and mental health. Books and intellectual material were made accessible across the globe, free of cost. Many relaxation exercises were advertised, and online education system was promoted followed by hybrid mechanism. Google’s search report 2020 reveals that “disease prevention” was searched massively in Pakistan amid the coronavirus pandemic. Gender equality, how to be productive, and Sadqa were drastically searched on the internet, while mental health support, reusable, and charity work were some of the topics explored by the internet users in Pakistan.
Video streaming has also developed a lot of attention during the lockdown, with the introduction of popular applications like YouTube, Daily Motion, Netflix, Amazon, Disney, Bingo, and TikTok. The media and entertainment firms are also using live streaming platforms to engage their target audiences. Moreover, Zoom, which is a communications technology company, filled the communication vacuum created by the pandemic. It has pushed businesses across the world in terms of transition to remote work.
However, the psychological implications of the pandemic are far-reaching. There are many disorders that relate to internet addictions and substance abuse. The common sufferings reported in general public, healthcare professionals and students included panic, depression, anxiety, stress, fear, trauma, mood disorders, adjustment disorder, and irritability. Suicide ratio raised and is projected to continue. Suspicious attitude towards others regarding spread of disease expanded the already increasing distances, destroying the social life completely.
Social media plays a major role in spread of misinformation and disinformation, which may turn and cause mental health problems. It creates a fantasy world that promotes impulsivity and leads to pursuing impossible goals, resulting in emotional and psychological damage. Moreover, gamers are becoming addicted. Problematic usage can occur in both offline and online settings, but reports of video game “addictions” are often related with online games such as Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games. Pakistan Telecommunication Authority tentatively postponed online game Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) in July 2020, due to its potential negative impact on children’s psychological and physical health. Addiction for video streaming apps has also raised serious concerns among communities related to psychological impacts on young and adult minds.
The technology has also allowed easier and faster circulation of pornographic materials across boundaries. Internet-pornography-viewing disorder is considered a type of internet-use disorder. Pornography addiction has negative consequences in life domains, like school, academic, job functioning, disloyalty, separation, and divorce. Beside the sexual arousal, dealing with boredom, curiosity, information seeking, anxiety, and stress was the reason connected with greater use. PTA has identified and blocked numerous URLs and websites holding porn material. It also triggers abusive attitudes toward women.
The problematic use of internet, specifically that of online gaming, addictive video streaming and online pornography, is an evolving problem. However, the pandemic may have created a golden chance to revolutionize the tech-field for common users in Pakistan. The video streaming viewership has contributed to producing content from the comfort of own homes. According to the Markets, the global live streaming could grow to 2.47 million dollars by 2027 as reported by Wire. Pakistani businesses may benefit from this opportunity by using video streaming as a formal platform to promote concerts, weddings, and relevant exhibits that will largely increase their revenues. Monitoring malicious narratives and fake internet traffic could be profitable technophiles. Influencers may also be trained for constructive content developing to contribute to the larger cause. It is difficult, but possible.