Heidi Stevens column: With everything closed, we look to Facebook for community

A friend started a Facebook group called Haikus for a global pandemic. Hundreds flowed in within the first 24 hours.

Heidi Stevens.jpg
Heidi Stevens

With the sudden and jarring removal of church, synagogue, mosque, prayer club, book club and corner pub from our daily lives, where can we turn for camaraderie and goodwill, information and inspiration?

Facebook, natch.

“Someone in one of my FB groups shared this message from her CEO,” my friend Anne wrote (on Facebook) Monday morning. “I love it.”

So do I. It goes like this:


“I ask each of you to keep the challenge of maintaining connection in this time of remoteness at the very forefront of your mind at all times. As a rabbi in Pittsburgh offered earlier this week ‘Every hand that we don’t shake must become a phone call that we place. Every embrace that we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern.’”

The rabbi encouraged people not to rely too heavily on “faceless, soundless digital transmission.”

“Talk to people. Use video. Speak of the goings-on that are so immediate around us, but also take the extra moments to talk of family, of things that move you, of what has made you smile. In every interaction, let those you touch know that they are not alone,” the post reads. “What happens next is still unfolding — but how it happens is largely up to us. Let’s take on the days ahead with love, connection, warmth and unending efforts to foster deep and shared connection.”

Facebook, for all its faults (and its faults are real: refusal to remove political ads that contain false information and a security breach that exposed users’ personal data are two biggies), is filling a gaping hole where our social lives, water coolers, parent groups, community meetings used to be.

A group called People’s Coronavirus Response popped up on March 11 and had more than 7,300 members by Monday. I was invited to two newly formed Facebook groups over the weekend: Coronavirus Parents: Parenting in a Pandemic and The Quarantinies. People are sharing medical advice, closing updates, advice on combating cabin fever and funny memes.

On personal pages, I’m seeing requests and recommendations for books to pass the time, movies to pass the time, podcasts to pass the time, recipes to pass the time, card games to pass the time, house projects to pass the time. I’ve seen at least four posts encouraging people to place green paper shamrocks in their windows on Tuesday and then take their kids on a St. Patrick’s Day shamrock hunt around the neighborhood. “It’s easy. No human contact. Get fresh air,” the post reads.

Another friend started a Facebook group called Haikus for a global pandemic. Hundreds flowed in within the first 24 hours. “Sad, silly, angry, scared, loving,” she said. I checked out the page. This was one:

No more sports to watch


Could stranger on couch be wife?

She seems very nice

(Adapted from a meme going around, the author acknowledged. Still, clever.)

Houses of worship are streaming sermons and services on their Facebook pages while their doors are temporarily closed.

Facebook launched in February 2004, almost three years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It was around during 2009's H1N1 outbreak, but it only had 150 million users at the time, compared with 2.5 billion users now. The coronavirus is the first national crisis of this size and magnitude — lives and livelihoods significantly altered, thousands of lives lost globally — during which most Americans (7 in 10, according to Pew Research Center) are flocking to the same source for everything from news to community to comedic relief.

It’s far from perfect. And it’s far from all rainbows and sunshine. I’m certainly seeing the usual partisan sniping and churlish name-calling and all the rest.

But I’m also seeing happy birthday posts and baby’s-first-steps posts and hey-my-book-got-published posts. Life-goes-on posts. And-I-want-to-share-it-with-people posts.

I’m taking some comfort in the knowledge that we humans — born to be social — keep finding ways to do so, even in the eye of a social distancing storm.


We need each other. We gravitate toward each other. We call out to each other and we answer each other’s calls. And if that has to happen mostly behind a glowing, soulless screen for a while, well, so be it. Maybe it will teach us a little more grace about our kids’ lives, tied as they are to devices.

Connections are connections. Human, face-to-face, in-person is always going to be my preference. But it’s encouraging to see how quickly we adapt, rather than abandon, those connections for the conditions at hand.

We can’t do this life alone. And, even better, it appears we don’t want to.

Heidi Stevens writes her Balancing Act column for the Chicago Tribune.

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