Network Shocks and Social Support Among Spanish, Dutch, and Italian WhatsApp Users During the First Wave of the COVID-19 Crisis: An Exploratory Analysis of Digital Social Resilience

Marc Esteve-Del-Valle, Elisabetta Costa, Berber Hagedoorn


This research investigates how people across Europe used WhatsApp to cope with social isolation during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. We conducted 30 semi-structured interviews (10 per country) with young adults (ages 25–49 years) from the urban areas of Barcelona (Spain), Groningen (the Netherlands), and Milan (Italy). Our results reveal that the pandemic shock “turtled up” WhatsApp communications, with individuals falling back on families and close friends (strong ties), from whom they obtained emotional and informational support to cope with the anxieties and fears of the pandemic, thereby increasing their resilience to the crisis. Despite the centrality of strong ties, our data also show that it was the persistence of, above all, humorous communication exchanges with acquaintances (weak ties) that helped individuals feel accompanied during the crisis. Furthermore, we found evidence of the emergence of communication with latent ties (e.g., former partners) as an added source of social support.


COVID-19, network shock, social ties, social support, digital social resilience, WhatsApp

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