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Pandemic Effects on Social Networks and Echo Chambers

In the era of COVID-19, our worlds have shrunk into neighborhoods, households, and computer screens. Our social connections have been influenced greatly by our lives in isolation. Before, you would interact with many acquaintances with whom you have weak ties to during your everyday routine. For example, you might interact with a classmate, coworker, or mailman in person, but now, when you must put in the effort to connect to people virtually, those relationships aren’t a priority anymore. Instead, you spend more time with people who you have strong ties to like family, parents, and close friends.

Social isolation has a huge impact on our social network and beyond. For example, while our world has shrunk, we also have the demanding obligation of voting during a time of a polarizing presidency, a pandemic, and a widespread movement protesting police violence and systemic racism. This article from the New York Times demonstrates how distancing can possibly affect voters’ choices. It states that “spouses, parents, and close friends who you have strong ties with exert the most powerful pull on voters’ behavior because your closest friends and family probably have similar politics as you, and more casual acquaintances are likelier to upend your assumptions.” Even if you do not have the same politics as your closest friends– or more likely, your family– social isolation has led people to communities and ideas that they are comfortable with. It has become easier to ignore people you disagree with without casual or facilitated in-person interactions.

Much like the political echo chambers present on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter where users encounter people whose beliefs and opinions are similar to them, social isolation has led to real-life echo chambers. Amid loneliness, diminished trust, and the dissolution of social capital, these echo chambers reinforce strong ties and diminish weak ties. Your weak ties may not be broken entirely, but they may be less used in the network and become weaker. On the other hand, social isolation has also pushed almost all people online. The possibility of mobilizing people and building social capital virtually has increased. Perhaps now, there are also more possibilities for forming new weak ties and acquaintances through the Internet. 

This issue addresses the topic of tie strength and strong and weak ties which we discussed in week 2 of class. It discusses the pandemic’s impact on altering strong and weak ties and broader social networks by weakening weak ties, strengthening strong ties, and creating echo chambers. This topic demonstrates a real application of strong and weak ties and its extreme relevance to our lives today.


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October 2020