There are few truisms that play out more reliably in consumer research than this one: People are more concerned or empathetic relative to an issue when they’ve been impacted by it personally or via someone they know. People with gay family members or friends are more supportive of gay rights. People with Muslim or Hispanic friends are less likely to be xenophobic. The examples go on and on.

COVID-19: Familiarity Breeds Contempt

It stands to reason, then, that people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 – or know someone who has – are more seriously concerned about the disease and the pandemic it has spawned. According to the most recent CivicScience data, approximately 18% of U.S. adults know someone who has been diagnosed (or have been diagnosed themselves) with the coronavirus. That number has climbed steadily over the past week as the disease has spread.

We can also see that people who know someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus are significantly more likely – almost twice as likely – to be concerned about the pandemic and taking precautions to avoid or spread the virus. See here:

The Facebook Effect

Since CivicScience began tracking the spread of the coronavirus, we’ve been studying the factors that most commonly correlated with someone knowing a victim. Consistently, the group who know someone diagnosed with virus are more likely to live in urban or suburban areas, be more highly educated, and – to skew much younger. And it was the last correlation that caught our eye.

Why would younger people be so much more likely to someone who has been diagnosed with a virus that disproportionately affects older people? It’s simple. Because younger people have more friends – online anyway.

Of the thousands of consumer characteristics in the CivicScience database that can be cross-tabulated with the coronavirus diagnosis question, virtually none revealed a higher correlation than Facebook usage. See for yourself:

Among all of the respondents who answered the coronavirus question since March 20th, regular Facebook users are nearly 4X more likely than non-users to know someone who has been diagnosed with the virus. A similar phenomenon can be seen among Instagram users in the CivicScience database, where the ratio is slightly lower, at just less than 3X.

Connection, Causation, Correlation

There are so many ways social media is impacting the coronavirus crisis. A constant stream of news and information – and often misinformation – can cause a spectrum of fear or apathy. Certainly, staying in touch with friends and family, virtually, can ease the malaise of quarantine. 

But the expanded networks of friends enabled by Facebook, Instagram, and others increases the likelihood that the coronavirus will hit us closer to home. Whether it’s a friend’s mom who was diagnosed with the virus or a fellow high school alum who lost their job, social media is making the human toll of COVID-19 more personal for tens of millions of Americans – for better or worse.