Pandemic closed the bar: How social media enables student parties

Monday, June 15, 2020

Despite measures easing slowly to stop the spread of coronavirus Covid-19, many students have had to forego many aspects of student life – not just at universities but also at colleges. Face-to-face lectures have become online lectures as a social distancing measure to limit the physical contact between people

Exams have also been halted in many educational institutions around the world – including in schools. Students are therefore feeling anxious about their future, while also missing their friends as they’re unable to organise gatherings, go to night clubs, bars or to parties. Student life is about exploring possibilities, and to some the lockdowns and social distancing may have curtailed their enjoyment. The danger is that fun could be replaced with anxiety as well as with loneliness, depression and even worse.

Health and wellbeing

Gabriel Mulko, Chief Operating Officer and co-founder of social community app Leepse, says there is a way to keep the lecturers, the parties and the conversations going to ensure that people can have fun while looking after their health and wellbeing – and perhaps even enjoy ‘the new normal’ by keeping in touch with their friends, colleagues and loved ones. After all, no man or woman is an island. The vast majority of us as humans, and most occasions, need and crave human contact. It offers us comfort, validation and enhances our self-esteem.

One way is to use video calls. “Video calls have had the benefit of enabling students to catch up with family and friends, and a lot of established apps have integrated video calls in their features to make sure they also ride the wave.” He adds that some schools and universities have enforced strict anti-cheating processes and regulations – even when their students are studying or being tested from home. Scrutiny in most educational establishments hasn’t become lax.

Maintaining standards

Unfortunately, there have been some students who’ve tried to pull the wool over their teachers’, examiners’, and invigilators’ heads. It’s certainly been challenging for them to maintain high standards, and to close the door on any opportunity to cheat. However, the experiment with online learning will have shown that it is still possible to prevent cheating, while enabling students to study and join classes or lectures from home, or from wherever they feel most comfortable to study. This raises questions about whether online learning will become an increasingly popular tool once the Covid-19 pandemic ends.

Love and friendship are in the app

Meanwhile, the curtailments on students’ love lives has been quite difficult for many of them wanting to go out dating, or simply to just to be with a partner, boyfriend or girlfriend. Mulko comments: “Love life is the one that has been the more disrupted during the pandemic with people having to stay away from each other. Dates at the bars were replaced with video calls, and sex was replaced by sexting on snapchat. People were not having much social contact, and so they replaced it by the ‘swipes’ as illustrated by Tinder who did his best day in number of swipes since its creation during the lockdown.

According to BBC News, Tinder achieved 3 billion swipes worldwide on Sunday 29th March 2020, the most the app has ever recorded in a single day. “In the UK, daily conversations rose by 12% between mid-February and the end of March”, writes BBC News Business Reporter Dougal Shaw. Elie Seidman, CEO of Tinder, therefore comments that there has been a dramatic shift in behavioural metrics. Interestingly, other dating platforms have seen similar results.

Charly Lester, dating expert for The Inner Circle platform adds: “Matches have risen by 15% and the number of messages sent is up by 10%, but we’ve also noticed less willingness to pay.” Nevertheless, Shaw reports that “platforms like eHarmony, OKCupid and Match have reported a big rise in video dates.” Beyond the metrics, Tinder has transformed itself from being a place to organise ‘hook-ups’ offline, to one that’s about being a place to hang out online – principally to get to know people. Shaw adds: “It is trialing virtual spaces and live events where people can meet and match on the platform, like Swipe Nights and quizzes.”

Mulko comments that apps are now the new way to make friends: “Another interesting trend we saw is the increasing usage of mobile apps to connect digitally with other people, even perfect strangers. Most top ranked apps in the US were social apps to meet people.”

He has also noticed that another way to socialise online has increased: gaming. During the lockdown period, there has been the release of many games – including Call of Duty Warzone. This, Mulko believes, “came at the best moment as many students were going back to their old ways and playing way more video games than usual. Gaming numbers therefore went through the roof.”

Addressing anxiety

So how anxious do students feel about their future, given the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on student life? For those that have newly graduated, and with increasing unemployment, they’re anxious about the future careers and where to find a job. Mulko explains: “Imagine entering the job market while the biggest crisis since 1929 is hitting and a great part of the population is unemployed. I know I’d be freaked out for a bit because the situation will only go back to normal slowly. On the other hand, you have the students graduating from high school in the US who are starting university in fall, in the autumn. They were excited about living the college experience, and they don’t know if they will even get it. This must be frustrating.”

“Overall, everyone is anxious and annoyed. With social distancing, you have a lower quality of education, tuition fees are too expensive for what they get, no networking opportunities and no social life. But we won’t let them down, we won’t let students live a discounted experience at schools, colleges or at universities. We just need to reinvent things that we were taking for granted.”

AP News Agency, writes in their article, ‘New normal awaits US college students returning to campus’, published by Aljazeera on21st May 2020, that: “Growing numbers of colleges in the United States are pledging to reopen this fall, with dramatic changes to campus life to keep the coronavirus at bay. Big lectures will be a thing of the past. Dorms will be nowhere near capacity. Students will face mandatory virus testing. And at some smaller schools, students may be barred from leaving campus.”

“Even as some universities abandon hope of in-person instruction next semester, citing concerns from public health officials, dozens are announcing plans to welcome students back in August. They acknowledge that an outbreak could force classes back online, but many of their leaders say the financial and political pressures to reopen are too large to ignore.”

Enabling student life

Despite these challenges, Mulko says social media has enabled students to find all aspects of student life online, and he feels that’s what makes the future exciting despite the many uncertainties about what’s going to happen with the pandemic itself. “Students can follow the news on Twitter, attend lectures on Zoom, talk to their friends on messaging apps and meet new people on dating apps too”, he explains.

While the metrics may be going through the roof for social media apps, he believes overall that students have had enough of the current social media options available to them – involving the “infinite loop Zoom, Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat.” He hopes Leepse can significantly change this pattern because people want to be ‘social’, talking and meeting new people that will make their life more exciting.”

He adds: “Most of the biggest apps put you on passive mode: you scroll through endless content, like posts from time to time and you become numb. We are at a turning point. People want to build connections, superficial or meaningful. As humans, we need to be social. That’s the reason the atmosphere we have on Leepse makes it very attractive. People are socialising in a casual group setting. When you think about it, in real life you meet new people through exciting group conversations most of the time.”

Mulko therefore remarks that Leepse is not about being with your friends because it is about being social, for real: “We foster genuine and meaningful interactions to make people be part of an experience. By making sure that people are being matched with people like them, they build a strong bond, similar to one when you spend a crazy evening with someone you just met. We make strangers feel like friends.”

Socialising: the virtual bar

However, one aspect of their social lives remains disrupted in meantime: having a drink at the bar. So, have students been able to socially distance drink and party with their friends in virtual bars? The main problem is about being able to match the atmosphere of a bar or pub with the presence of people on a screen. It’s just not the same, however, many students have done their best to keep the party going online.

Mulko explains: “Most people turned to gathering on Zoom where they were having drinks live. However, Zoom calls and most social apps are focused on existing friends, not to talk and meet new people (without the intent of dating). That’s what Leepse is building because we want to make people feel like they are walking into a bar; they look around, they see various people and have a chat. To foster a lively atmosphere, Leepse uses a lot of games as conversation starters and we prefer fun group discussions. This way, you can meet the most interesting people, just like you would have in real life.”

Student life: next steps

So, what’s next for student life? There is no telling; it’s a wait and see game. For now, social distancing is mostly seen as the new normal. “This will strongly affect the social events usually thrown on campuses such as fraternity parties and ‘tailgates’ in the US, and other student parties across the world”, he says. Moreover, he foresees that online lectures, working from home and cutting out unnecessary travel are going to be factors that will make a permanent stamp on the students’ education and overall lives.

In conclusion, he claims that Leepse will be even better once people can meet each other in real life. People’s online banter will become meet-ups, chances to go out for a real drink. That’s why social media apps such as his own can enable students to party, to meet new people and find jobs during the current pandemic. The bar might be closed for now, but it won’t be forever and there will be opportunities to connect with people you know and people you’ve chatted with online. Life goes on even in a pandemic lockdown, and despite financial and economic pressures, life can still be fun and engaging.

By Graham Jarvis, Freelance Business and Technology Journalist