Social media’s journey through 2020

Throughout the year 2020, social media faced various challenges and changes. Despite the good intentions behind these changes, many social media platforms were scrutinized by their users. Along with the scrutiny from their users, one social media platform faced a permanent ban imposed by the government.

TikTok still stands amid the chaos

On Sept. 31, President Donald Trump announced that he might ban popular video-sharing app TikTok. Soon after the announcement, fans and influencers alike went into a frenzy as they posted many heartfelt goodbyes to the platform.

The relationship between the United States government and TikTok has been strained for some time, according to The New York Times. Many government officials, along with the president, felt that the app posed a national security threat due to the parent company, ByteDance, being Chinese; the administration feared the company would give the Chinese government access to American user data.

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“While there may be some legitimate national security concerns in regards to data privacy and TikTok, I don’t think that the U.S. government really gains, so to speak, from trying to ban social media platforms like TikTok,” said Jill Hopke,  an assistant professor of journalism at DePaul University with an expertise in social media. “These are vastly popular social media outlets, particularly with youth, and mechanisms for individuals to exercise their freedom and their first amendment rights…as we saw with TikTok, there’s quite a bit of potential for those kinds of actions on the part of any government to backfire when trying to ban platforms like TikTok.”


CNN Business reported on Sept. 28 that TikTok survived the ban — for the time being. On Sept. 27, a federal judge granted the app’s “request for a temporary injunction against a push by the Trump administration to ban the app in the United States.” 

“Unless there’s evidence of mass amounts of people using it for propaganda or pro-Isis type videos, [then] I don’t see a point of shutting down TikTok,” said Nathalie Hoste, a journalism student at DePaul.

As of right now, TikTok is still available in the Apple App Store, Google Play, Amazon Appstore and via QR Code. 

Instagram introduces updates to mixed reviews 

Throughout the year, Instagram has made drastic changes to its user interface.

In November, the photo-sharing app redesigned its homepage by featuring two new tabs to the bottom menu. One being Instagram Reels, which launched in August and it’s essentially the app’s answer to TikTok. 

With Instagram Reels, users can create and upload 15-second multi-clip videos with audio, special effects, and other creative tools. Instagram’s Shop tab allows people to shop from their favorite stores and online boutiques.

With the redesign of the homepage, Instagram moved its Post button, which allows users to post their photos and videos, to the upper-right. The notifications tab, where users can see who likes their photos and who follows them, was also moved.

Many criticized the app’s redesign of the homepage. 

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“I feel like it’s harder to access if you want to look at your likes or look at your follow requests or at making new posts,” Hoste said. “And then the fact that they added a shopping tab to a photo app makes absolutely no sense. Because people aren’t using Instagram primarily for shopping. So why would you add a shopping tab if it wasn’t a shopping app?”

These criticisms aren’t exactly new. Instagram redesigned its homepage once before in 2016 by getting rid of its chronological feed. Following this change, posts were sorted according to the app’s algorithm, displaying content it thinks the user would like first, rather than showing posts in chronological order.

According to Buffer, the algorithm aims to predict what a user will like and the content they may care about. By doing this, though, it has become harder for social media influencers to reach the audience they were able to before the switch from chronological order. Another downside is that users aren’t able to see the posts of their family and friends as easily as before.

Bree McEwan, an associate professor of Communication Studies at DePaul who also specializes in social media, explained why users may dislike these changes. For one, users get attached to the interface, and two, they are used to navigating through the platform in a certain way.

When you change norms and accordances, you change the way that users interact with, and it forces them to learn something new at a moment that they might not want to,” she said. 

The rise of stories

Snapchat officially hit the app store in 2011 with a unique premise: Users take and send photos, also known as “snaps,” to other users. These snaps were up to 10 seconds long and they were automatically deleted once the user finished viewing them. Originally, the app only dealt with photos, but video capability came a year later.

Snapchat officially introduced “stories” in 2013, which allowed users to post videos and photos that are only available for 24 hours. More recently, Snapchat introduced the ability to save direct messages and snaps from one’s story. 

In recent years, other social media platforms have adopted stories, Snapchat’s claim to fame. Facebook and Instagram launched stories in March 2017 and August 2016, respectively. .More recently, Twitter launched its version, called “Fleets,” in November 2020, while LinkedIn introduced stories in September 2020.

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“What research, broadly speaking, does tell us about user engagement is that images and video tend to have higher levels of engagement over text-alone based posts,” Hopke said. “And so we’ve seen a trend across social platforms of moving towards more visually oriented features.”

Users were surprised to see LinkedIn join the many social media platforms that have launched stories.

“I don’t go on LinkedIn as often as I should… LinkedIn is used for more like career opportunities,” Hoste said. “So, there’s no point [in] adding a story there.”

“It would be very hard for stories to become a thing, you know, because you can retweet, you can like, you can look at the trending page…I don’t know how people would take that,” she said.

What about social media has changed significantly in 2020?

2020 has forced people to change the way they do things, especially with social media. One has to wonder how social media has changed throughout the year.

“Nothing and everything,”  McEwan said. “Social media itself hasn’t had drastic changes, right? We still use the same main platforms that we did in 2019 — Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, our three big platforms.We are seeing differences in the way that users engage with these platforms. It has become, in some ways, our main social outlet. And in a lot of ways, I think social media is our main access point.”

McEwan said that people are in a time where they’re physically isolated from one another, but they remain connected as they continue to communicate through social media.

Hopke echoed this sentiment,  stating that the way users interact with social media has been impacted by the pandemic. 

“There was some data I saw in the fall, that was analyzing [and] looking at the way that individuals use patterns had changed during the more widespread periods of lockdown,” Hopke said.

She had shared an article from Sprout that went into detail on how Covid-19 had changed the best times to post on social media. They had updated their data pulled from their yearly review of best times to post and they found that those times had shifted due to work and social life going virtual.

Pew Research published a few articles in October that detailed how Americans felt toward social media during the pandemic.In one survey, Pew Research found that 64 percent of Americans say that social media doesn’t have a good on the ways things were going in the United States. They have this negative view due to the misinformation and the hate and harassment they witness online.

About 23 percent of adult social media users in the U.S. say they have changed their views about political or social issues due to what they saw on social media, according to another Pew Research survey.

The way people have used social media and interacted with one another has changed in 2020. With a pandemic that doesn’t seem to have an end in sight, one can only imagine how social media will impact our daily lives in the future.