Social Media, Brands & Vaccine Passports

Photo by Yasin Yusuf on Unsplash

The use of social media and other digital tools during the pandemic has been an unprecedented look at how society is developing, communicating and expressing new social norms. At the beginning of the pandemic and during subsequent lockdowns, people rallied on social media to tell and remind others to “stay home” or “wear a mask” and across multiple platforms, memes and hashtags spread these cultural lessons. There was anti-pandemic content as well, but they’re the minority in a society where the majority think in terms of “we” versus those who think in terms of “me” and tend to react more selfishly.

With the introduction of the vaccine and as populations become increasingly protected, societies began sharing information about their experiences and using new memes and hashtags along with associated content, to create a new norm around being vaccinated. As I received my second dose, I too shared, like millions of others, that information on social media. Societies have been sharing how to behave for many thousands of years. But for the first time, we have ability to share at a global scale, influencing people around the world without relying on established news media and government communications. We are literally teaching a global society in real time.

A key survival trait for humans is communication. A long time ago, the first part of church on a Sunday was the sermon, the second half was community information. Remember the Town Crier of past ages? They brought people together in village and city squares to communicate important information from those in power. Today, this is done via social media and without the sermon part, but directly between people. News media then gather and curate what both governments are saying and citizens and then broadcast. Often times, citizens will share this information as well.

Now, we are in a phase where governments are considering vaccine passports. The Canadian province of Quebec has announced it is proceeding. The U.S. and Canadian federal governments are considering them from cross-border travel, while some provinces, like Nova Scotia are not yet committed to them. France introduced a mandatory health pass to access bars and restaurants. This information spread rapidly across social media and there’s been a spike in vaccinations. While it is doubtful there will be a standardized global vaccine passport, we are seeing concerns over privacy and rights. But we are also seeing businesses react and citizens are using social media to discuss and debate vaccine passports as well.

Over the past decade, in large part due to social media (although definitive evidence is lacking), major brands have been reacting to social trends. For example, during the 2021 pride month, we saw many major brands use the pride flag colours as their logos. Brands monitor social media constantly, for reputation monitoring, purchasing trends, advertising and to understand social issues they may need to be concerned with or see as a way to be more socially participative.

While no brand can issue a legal vaccination passport, they’ve been monitoring social media and they know that the majority of the population wants vaccination and that the pro-vaccinated far outweighs the anti-vaccination segment of the population. And some are taking steps. Yelp just announced they will enable businesses on their platform to indicate their COVID policies. Restaurants and retailers are posting their vaccination requirements on their social media accounts, some pinning them to the top of their Twitter and Facebook pages. As a digital anthropologist, and probably for sociologists and cultural anthropologists, this is a fascinating look at how a society is using digital tools to develop social norms during a pandemic.

As our use of social media evolves, we are beginning to develop socially acceptable digital norms, that are translating to real-world societal norms. While at times it can seem dark and tumultuous, the general trend of societies throughout history has been better than it has been worse. It will be interesting to see how brands engage more on this topic in the coming months. The clear signal however, is more people want the vaccine than don’t.

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Giles Crouch | Digital Anthropologist

Giles Crouch | Digital Anthropologist

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Digital / Cultural Anthropologist | Featured in Wired, National Geographic & Forbes | Celt | Explorer | Intensely Curious