One tweet and a torrent of aid

Jinoy Jose P Chitra Narayanan AJ Vinayak August 28 | Updated on August 30, 2018 Published on August 28, 2018

While thousands of groups went hyper active on WhatsApp and Facebook, coordinating relief and rescue efforts, Telegram also saw communities and ‘channels’ rise to the occasion

How Twitter, WhatsApp, FB, Telegram supported rescue and relief effort in the 2 States

As the water level rose in Kerala, Fort Kochi resident Firoz Khan’s WhatsApp inbox was inundated with messages about people marooned. Firoz began zeroing in on the location of the stranded people on Google Maps and sending the Plus Code (the exact spot) to helicopter and boat-rescue teams, whose numbers had been circulating over social media. “I sent 50-60 messages,” he says, adding that he was heartened to hear a few people thank him for his role in the rescue.

In Bengaluru, freelance journalist Sandhya Menon carpet-bombed Twitter with appeals, and single-handedly raised ₹10.9 lakh plus three truck loads of supplies of food and cleaning material that she despatched to Wayanad and Kochi. For days Menon, who was glued to her phone from 5-30 am to beyond midnight, tweeted non-stop to mobilise relief material, coordinating over WhatsApp to arrange storage, packing and transport. She describes how strangers responded to her Twitter appeals, using e-commerce sites Big Basket and Amazon to deliver stuff to her. One person even sent her an express courier from Jammu.

Volunteers pack relief materials at a collection centre to be despatched to the flood-hit areas   -  THE HINDU


Like Menon, Kishor Cariappa is yet another digital warrior who spent over 14 hours a day on social media platforms, mobilising resources for flood- ravaged Kodagu in Karnataka, which did not get as much press coverage as Kerala. “I was touched to see strangers from across the country offering help in every way they could,” says this non-resident Coorgi, who took time off from work to help his beleaguered native.

Amplifying power

The social media, reviled in recent times for being addictive, spreading fake news and being used as a political-propaganda tool, turned out to be the biggest ally for flood- affected Kerala and Kodagu. According to Twitter, more than 2.62 million tweets were generated on hashtag #KeralaFloods alone. #RebuildingKerala is another hashtag gaining momentum by the day and garnering millions of tweets and support. Thousands of people like Firoz Khan, Sandhya Menon, and Kishor Cariappa worked on social media networks to reach rescue and relief to the stranded.

Menon says the amplifying power of Twitter came to her aid in raising resources. She describes how touched she was that influencers with high follower-counts continuously retweeted her appeals, helping her reach millions.

Where Twitter provided reach, WhatsApp helped in the actual coordination. Apart from the groups she formed to coordinate logistics, another group, Blue Umbrella, that she had been part of to help with Chennai flood relief, proved to be a boon. “The people on the group were well-connected,” she says, describing how the members helped arrange free trucks, and logistical support.

Firoz Khan too says that WhatsApp proved to be a strong ally when it came to coordination. A WhatsApp groups he was part of — Tourism Professionals Group — used the platform to mobilise resources for those worst-affected and reach food and other essentials to Aluva, North Paravur and Mala in Chalakudy.

A dilemma they faced was that only trucks with ground clearance could reach many of the flooded areas — and luckily, through their contacts, they got a Taurus truck that could drive through the water.

Meanwhile, on Facebook too, groups were forming — total strangers came together just to help the flood-affected. Kerala Flood Relief was an impromptu Facebook group that overnight saw its membership swell to 4,100. Other groups like Flood Technology Support Kerala 2018 helped disseminate information on tools and ways to help the affected. For the Navy rescue teams, the biggest ally was Google Maps. Tech giant Google activated its Person Finder tool in English and Malayalam. A Google spokesperson says that at least 22,000 people were traced through this tool.

Reaffirming faith

Google also launched a Distress Relief Fund icon on the Tez home screen’s ‘Businesses’ section. Users can just tap on it to donate to the fund directly from their bank account.

While thousands of groups went hyper active on WhatsApp and Facebook, coordinating relief and rescue efforts, Telegram, another popular messaging platforms immensely popular among Malayalees, also saw communities and ‘channels’ rise to the occasion.

Many popular groups such as the International Chalu Union (ICU), whose Telegram channel has more than 10,000 active and visible users (ICU’s Facebook page has nearly one million followers (9,82,532) and Cinema Paradiso Club (whose Telegram Channel by about 5,000 subscribers and has more than 71,439 followers on Facebook) immediately stopped publishing jokes and trivia to focus on broadcasting rescue and relief messages of the government and other agencies.

Most interestingly, in a measure of human values triumphing over all other forms of vicarious gratification, a number of infamously popular porn channels on Telegram (some of them have more than 10,000 followers or more) stopped regular broadcast and started passing rescue and relief- literature and flash cards. “Such attempts are remarkable and reaffirm our faith in human affinity in times of crisis. It also reflects the fact that Malayalees are as a community able to think beyond partisan and compartmentalised thinking and set aside their agenda to find a common ground to help each other,” sums up Muneer Valappil, who teaches mass media at EMEA College Kondotty, Malappuram.

Published on August 28, 2018

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