As the country, caught unawares, writhes under the second wave of Covid, social media has become a space of anguish and succour. The highs and lows of human experience are out there in the open, for all to see. As they struggled with the virus, people appealed for help and amplified each other. They shared vitals in real time, requesting oxygen, medicines, beds. Others verified and shared resources. As the crisis became an emergency, hospitals themselves took to Twitter warning that oxygen levels had depleted, that it was a matter of hours. Where the system creaks and collapses, activists, political organisations and volunteers have taken it upon themselves to arrange logistics and supplies.
Others did what they could – some organised meals for those in quarantine, some offered to run errands. Experts put out explanatory threads allaying fears. Pictures on social media also gave the lie to official statistics, as pyres burnt and hospitals spilled over. It was here that people broke the news of death, grieved and consoled. These stories of individual aid testify to the failure of state capacities, and also the mobilising potential of digital networks. But while spontaneous organising is easier than ever on social media, information overload and noise also go with the territory. There has been a lot of dangerous misinformation, about everything from how the virus spreads to how to cure it or protect from it.
Of course, social media only shows us a better-off fraction of India. Those whose plight cannot make it to these platforms are also more likely to lack material protection from infection, and have less access to medical and social support. These voices remain largely unheard. There are no digital workarounds here, the pandemic has thrown real inequalities into sharp relief.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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