Until recently, Christina Garnett worked at a global agency managing social media accounts for Fortune 500 companies, running a team that moderated and responded to people’s online questions. During the first months of the pandemic, she would wake up at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m., anxiously checking her phone and email to see if there was yet another crisis that required a quick response: Did the stock market crash? Did the president tweet about a specific brand? Was there a potential Covid-19 vaccine?
The 37-year-old social strategist often felt depressed and misunderstood by upper management, who didn’t fully understand how much time, effort, and stress social media work entails — and how toxic it can be for those who perform it every day, for hours and hours. “They don’t know what it’s like to live in that Twitter feed… to live in the comments section and to be able to see a populace that is agitated, that feels hopeless, that feels angry, that feels powerless,” she says. “It has turned to a point where we are either crying into the void or we’re yelling at it.”
In the relentless news cycle of 2020, social media managers are first responders. At a time when many are feeling social media’s impact on mental health and the burnout of working through a pandemic, they are under immense pressure to stay online, always be on call, respond quickly, and not make mistakes. In some cases they are on the verge of psychological collapse. Yet the importance of their work is still often invisible and undermined.
When Garnett shared her concerns about how 2020 is affecting social media managers in a blog post, messages started pouring in from dozens of peers who told her they were also struggling.
She had first tried to minimize her feelings. She told herself others had it worse than her, that she wasn’t working 24-hour shifts at a hospital and lives were not at stake in her job. But eventually, she couldn’t take it anymore. In June, she quit her job at the agency and now works as a strategist for a tech company.