During a time when there’s nothing to do but be on Instagram, I have never been more selective about what I post. A lot of that is thanks to the nature of the pandemic: I’m not up to much! But, contrary to what it may seem, I’m not up to nothing. I’m just not posting pictures like I used to. Everyone has different Covid comfort levels, and even if I feel like I’m doing something safely, a cavalier picture of myself and a friend outdoor dining could cause anxiety and frustration for someone who is more comfortable staying at home.

The fear of coming across on social media as someone irresponsible or tone deaf seems to be threaded throughout a number of posts on my feed, contributing to the rise of Insta-disclaimers that have become their own trope (“private island all tested negative multiple times wear a mask”). The latest? A “(Pre-Covid)” label tacked onto the beginning of an Instagram caption or Story that features a photo taken before the pandemic.

In a perfect world, any picture of a large gathering posted right now would be so obviously a pre-pandemic photo that a disclaimer wouldn’t be necessary. But thanks to uneven government guidance, differing Covid rules across the world, and influencer parties flagrantly ignoring all of the above, it’s just as likely that the picture on your feed of 10 people, hanging out unmasked and indoors, was taken yesterday and they just don’t care. 

When a celebrity or influencer does this, it’s easy to call them out in the comments. But when it’s  happening in your extended peer group, the consequences are much more personal. There are people in my life who I will look at differently or even have no interest in reuniting with when the pandemic is over, because they were either too irresponsible during Covid or, on the other end of the spectrum, way too scoldy (and often hypocritical). 

In both cases, I’m probably being unfair. But other than shaking our fists at the sky, the only thing to do with anxiety and anger about the pandemic is direct it at each other, which is why so many social media posts are pre-empting it. 

And they’re not wrong to! Because when I see a picture of people hanging out inside, be it for a birthday tribute or just a regular throwback, my hackles are raised until I read those magic words: “(pre-Covid).” AKA “Please don’t get mad at me.” AKA “I’m running out of things to post, so pre-pandemic content is all that’s left.”

On the (literal?) flip side, the rest of the world is getting glimpses of what is, in essence, a post-pandemic Australia. TikTok videos from there have their own disclaimers for non-Aussie users seeing them pop up on their For You pages. I’ll see a video of a group (!) of women in a bar (!!) dancing to a song that came out in 2020, and have a momentary flash of rage and anxiety and confusion until I see in the caption that, ah, this was taken in Australia where these things are happening regularly and safely.

It’s heartbreaking to see these reminders of how life once was and is once again for those whose governments and citizens have effectively tackled the pandemic—especially without  a clear answer as to when we’ll be back to normal. I have to assume, for my own sanity, that everyone is operating under the safety measures that make them feel the most comfortable, and give them the benefit of the doubt even if I spot a few extra people in the living room on an Instagram Story. Maybe they’re a pod. Maybe they all got tested. Maybe they’re vaccinated. Or maybe I’ll just tell myself it was “(pre-Covid),” even though Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License” is very much playing in the background.