Social Media

Social media, the last resort for people seeking Covid-19 aid

Rutam Vora Ahmedabad | Updated on April 22, 2021

Crowdsourcing of information connects citizens, helps manage crisis situations

In the eleventh hour emergency during the pandemic, when government helplines don’t yield results and trump-card contacts fail, people are hitting a wall in finding an ICU bed or oxygen cylinder for relatives and friends. Social media seems to be coming to the rescue, as a last resort in helping to save lives.

Information on hospitals, medicines, etc., is being crowd-sourced through online platforms like Twitter and Facebook. As India added a record 17.37 lakh new cases in seven days ending April 20, critical Covid-19 resources like ambulance, ICU/ventilator beds, oxygen cylinders or medicines including remdesivir have become extremely short in supply.

In desperation, people are turning to fellow citizens for help. Despite each State and big municipal corporations having its own Covid-19 call-centre or helpline to attend to public inquiries, there seems to be a vacuum for a single-point source of pandemic information.

All-in-one website

In Patna, an IIT-Kharagpur graduate Lokesh Verma last week created a portal with barely a few hundred contacts and references for Covid-19 resources in different districts across India. “We observed that SoS calls were coming on social media from several cities. Either people do not know the State helplines or they might not be yielding results. In panic, they search on social media seeking help and unknown people shared with them their experience and sources of supply. We found there was no centralised system for such information. So, we created a crowdsourced website, covidfacts.in, where people can search Covid-19 resources’ availability in their district or city,” Verma told Businessline. Today the portal has over 10,000 contacts/ references.

The biggest challenge in crowdsourcing information is its credibility posted by individuals. “We are introducing OTP-based system for credibility and tracking of those putting in the information,” he added.

‘Sphere of influence’

Patient families are also seeking out “influential” people on the social media network to get medicines or an ICU bed. A survey by LocalCircles conducted across 309 districts, revealed that 55 per cent of the respondents had to use clout or connections to secure an ICU bed, while only 13 per cent could get it through the routine process.

But the use of social media to arrange Covid-19 aid also raises serious questions on the possibilities of exploitation of the patients.

A senior doctor from Gujarat informed that helpdesks are set up across the districts and one centralised helpdesk is setup at State-level. “District collectorates across the State are providing information on bed availability and ICU/oxygen infrastructure at various hospital on regular basis. This information is being shared on social media groups and are also available at collector offices.”

Published on April 21, 2021

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