Snapchat Might Be Best Positioned for the Coronavirus Outbreak

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In times of crisis, Snapchat is quite happy to be Snapchat.

The platform’s disappearing messages make it optimized for private conversations, and there’s no central news feed of content generated by users outside of one’s personal network. Its Discover tab is full of news from curated sources, including Snapchat-specific content.

All of which means that if there’s misinformation on the platform, it doesn’t tend to reach a mass audience, which is important in times like this, with the coronavirus pandemic continuing to spread.

“We’ve worked hard to design Snapchat differently from traditional media,” Jennifer Stout, vp of policy for Snap, told Adweek. “For example, rather than building an open feed where unvetted content can go viral, we offer a curated portal for professional media publishers, many of whom are covering coronavirus. Additionally, in partnership with trusted public health voices like the World Health Organization, we have created filters that we expect will be seen by millions of people to raise awareness on how to stay safe.”

Compared with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and most other platforms, Snapchat is a relatively controlled social environment. That said, Snapchat is still a place where organic conversations do happen.

In a blog post first shared with Adweek on Monday, Snapchat highlighted the most popular trending conversations on the platform sourced from Snapchat Search, Public Snaps, and Our Story submissions in the U.S. for Friday, March 13. Snapchat’s 218 million daily active users were most often posting about hand sanitizer, coughing, gloves and hazmat suits, while many also discussed news around the suspension of the NBA season, school cancellations and Tom Hanks, who tested positive for COVID-19 and has been quarantined with his wife Rita Wilson in Australia. 

Snapchat also said that users are talking about their “coronacation,” a neologism that Urban Dictionary defines as the “Travel ban being enforced from companies, schools, government, etc. due to the coronavirus that’s forcing people to stay home and/or telework.”

A Snap spokesperson said the platform is working with advertisers to communicate how millennial and Gen Z users may adapt their communications habits during this crisis.

Last week, Snapchat partnered with the World Health Organization to introduce a special filter with five safety tips and guidelines—”Wash hands frequently,” “Don’t touch your face,” “Feeling sick? Stay home!,” “Practice social distancing” and “Cover your cough.” Users can also swipe up on a filter for more WHO information.

Snapchat’s Discover tab has featured WHO-sponsored news and information in recent weeks, and publishers like The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal have been posting reliable news about the virus on the platform. Snapchat’s own Good Luck America program and NBC’s Snapchat show Stay Tuned have consistently covered the outbreak for the last two weeks, the latter reporting today about how individuals can help “flatten the curve” during the coronavirus outbreak by practicing social distancing.

That being said, plenty of publishers and influencers are completely avoiding the outbreak: Vice promoted a weekly horoscope on Sunday, Seventeen is preoccupied with Drake Bell, and iHeartRadio wants you to know that Jay Z is not a sell-out. 

As the coronavirus outbreak has intensified, social media platforms have done their part by posting pop-up alerts with the latest on the pandemic, curbing efforts to profiteer off the virus on marketplaces, and handing out free ads to the WHO, the Centers for Disease Control and other nonprofit groups.

On Sunday, New York Times media columnist Ben Smith praised the platforms for working to amplify reliable sources while rooting out misinformation. “The services are promoting the good and deleting the bad,” Smith wrote, crediting them with sending users to the CDC and WHO. “Even frequent critics of the big social platforms are pretty impressed.”

Snap, he wrote, “largely avoided the misinformation trap” and “is driving users toward good health advice.” And he is right. In designing a social platform that largely avoids the quandary of misinformation and disinformation, Snapchat can devote its time and resources to promoting reliable information.

While Snapchat might not be the first platform most people turn to for news, it might the most reliable social network right now.

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