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    In times of social distancing, people turning to FB, WhatsApp & Twitter communities for assistance

    Synopsis

    From providing information to supplying essentials, these groups are doing it all.

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    Users running these groups and accounts said the number of followers, queries and messages for assistance continue going up regardless of restrictions being eased or reinstated in states.
    NEW DELHI: Bengaluru-based Mahita Nagaraj started a group, Caremongers India, in mid-March on Facebook to provide exchange of information and assistance to senior citizens and people with comorbidities, when Covid-19 cases started emerging in the country.

    The group currently has more than 47,000 members and is adding 100-200 more every day, Nagaraj said. It gets about 100-150 messages a day on WhatsApp for assistance, and about 300 queries on blood donation. Nagaraj thinks her group is here to stay, because Covid and social distancing is here to stay.

    “As some states go into lockdowns, people reach out to us for medical supplies, information on providers of cooked meals and nursing assistance. We always cater to senior citizens and people with comorbidities,” said Nagaraj.

    “They continue to reach out to us with the same intensity as the first lockdown. Blood donation and travel assistance are the biggest buckets. A lot of senior citizens don’t have access to online payment methods so they still coordinate pickups of essential supplies through us. A lot of HIV-positive patients reach out to us as they are scared to go out,” she added.

    In times of social distancing, more and more people — many of them first-time Internet users — are leveraging groups and communities on social media for help. Users running these groups and accounts said the number of followers, queries and messages for assistance continue going up regardless of restrictions being eased or reinstated in states.

    In times of social distancing, people turning to FB, WhatsApp & Twitter communities for assistanceAgencies

    Chandigarh-based Ruchit Garg, a former tech entrepreneur who in April launched the Twitter group Harvesting Farmer Network that connects distressed farmers with potential buyers for their produce, said his group would continue to stay and grow beyond the “corona times” because there is a behavioural change.

    The handle has over 10,000 followers and has listed more than 50,000 tonnes of fresh produce and vegetables for sale so far. Garg leverages WhatsApp to connect with distressed farmers across India and shares their details for buyers.

    “The combination of social tools like WhatsApp and Twitter is game-changing for many small farmers because they are no longer restricted to their local village and mandi. Farmers realise they can sell their produce on WhatsApp and Twitter and can make more money,” he said. “I think they would look at Twitter and WhatsApp as a serious opportunity and so would consumers.”

    Garg cited the example of a Bengaluru farmer, Dhananjay, who sold 20 tonnes of grapes in 4-5 days after Garg tweeted about it.

    “Celebrities, NGOs and bureaucrats started following us and mobilised their efforts,” he said.

    Mahima Kaul, the director of public policy, India and South Asia, at Twitter, said over the past few months the platform had seen the “bigger picture” emerge of how online communities, government, civil society and law enforcement have come together to drive collective action and efforts, helping those who need it the most and each other by way of conversations.

    "We have seen countless examples where Twitter has proven to be a uniquely useful place for timely communication and getting the required help," she added.

    WhatsApp said it had seen how educational institutions, law enforcement, government schools, healthcare professionals, farmers, migrants and people across the country were relying on the platform in these uncertain times.

    "During the ongoing pandemic, WhatsApp emerged as a lifeline in containment zones and has continued helping people connect with families, friends as well as colleagues... Similarly, the Kerala government and The National Commission for Women (NCW) were using WhatsApp as a weapon to fight domestic violence," a WhatsApp spokesperson said.

    Facebook said In India, more than 45 million people have registered on the platform till June as blood donors. The platform’s blood donations feature, leveraged by states like Maharashtra, connects people who want to donate blood with opportunities to do so.
    The company said people are increasingly leveraging Facebook groups and various other features to cater to those in need. According to the company, pre-existent groups like Project Mumbai shifted their relief efforts towards Covid-19 related issues, and new groups like ‘Caremongers India’ and #EkSaath - Exploring the New Normal Community have seen massive support during the pandemic.

    Tamseel Hussain, the CEO of PLUC (People Like Us Create) which trains communities and groups on using social media to create positive change and helped migrants from Banka during the lockdown through Twitter, said the way average citizens had taken to social media platforms was unbelievable.

    “Issues have become more accessible. A lot of effort is being put in to translate information for first time internet users and that is amazing."

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