Society

Social Isolation And Social Media, A Toxic Combination

Do we need to see influencers in their designer pajamas?

Working the screens
Maria Hunstig

MUNICH — Every day feels like it lasts a month. The constant news alerts are overwhelming and our own attitude towards the coronavirus changes by the minute. "Give me a break!" we want to shout at the relentless updates. But there's one place where anyone looking for a bit of rest and relaxation... certainly won't find it: Social media.

Social distancing, of course, only applies to physical meet-ups and not to social media, so there has been an increase in online activity since isolation measures were introduced. There are still plenty of photos to post from within your own four walls. People are now using the hashtag #FromWhereIWork to show off the beautifully designed home office where they're opening their Macbook and sipping third-wave coffee from a ceramic mug – only breaking off for #MealPrep, whipping up a bowl of avocado, spinach and beluga lentils for lunch. They're sharing the #ViewFromMyWindow, a glimpse of their garden or a spectacular sunset, and a quick video of their personal #AtHomeWorkout.

The most effective way to convince others to follow suit is to issue a challenge, and the online community has dreamt up plenty over the past few days. Friends and followers are challenged to share their home offices, baking creations, cute photos of their kids, to take part in a quick-change challenge on Tiktok or post a photo of their current "work from home" fashion choices on Instagram.

Where is all the content coming from if no one is going shopping or leaving the house?

You'd be forgiven for thinking social isolation would have put an end to the parade of fashion photos on Instagram. The platform is best known for its highly filtered, rose-tinted (often paid) photos of outfits, so where is all the content coming from if no one is going shopping or leaving the house? The truth is there are still plenty of designer clothes around, as well as tips from influencers and stars who are posting every day from their balconies.

Last week, Mariah Carey posted a message with the #IStayHomeFor hashtag attached to a completely authentic photo of herself and her children in pajamas... although her PJs had a Louis Vuitton monogram and she was flawlessly made up. The next day she posted again — this time singing on the cross trainer in her home gym, dressed in a glittery Gucci shirt, sunglasses and gloves. Cathy Hummels took to social media looking fresh as ever doing yoga in a floaty skirt, and Karlie Kloss appeared in a sports bra and perfect eyeliner, calling for people to do a 10-minute work-out.

woman_walking_with_cellphone

Woman wearing a face mask browses her phone in the streets during quarantine Photo: ​Serhii Hudak

All these prettified feel-good messages from self-isolation can get a bit tiresome. It's great that social media can be a way to share important messages, find creative solutions to problems, show solidarity and keep people connected.

But there are plenty of us who don't feel like posting a selfie after 18 Zoom meetings and 29 Slack calls. We don't want to film home yoga sessions that show us sweaty and red-faced in old joggers, or clean the house to host a virtual dinner with friends. For those of us who'd rather sit and stare at the wall while eating frozen chips, it can feel like we're shut out.

There is already enough to be stressed about at the moment, without adding social pressure to the mix. But if, after weeks of self-isolation and living in jogging bottoms, you want to dress up and slap on a load of make-up for your morning video conference, go ahead. These days, anything goes.

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Economy

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


-Analysis-

BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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