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ONLINE SOCIAL MEDIA : Handle with Care & Caution during the Pandemic

Aarti Aarti
03 May 2021

With every passing day, seemingly the COVID-19 pandemic is getting more challenging. With millions of people already dead across the globe, clearly enough the virus affects our physical health. 

But then, expertly, COVID-19 also seems to exploit our psychology as well. Yes, there are no words to describe the heart-rending scenes being witnessed across the country. That hospitals and crematoriums are running out of space is a cause for concern.

One of the hardest experiences for human beings to comprehend during pandemic times, as studies indicate is controlling stress, anxiety and fear. Because fear of the unknown, can affect sleep and wake cycles, digestion and moods we need to be careful. Also, prolonged stress can cause headaches, depression and make people feel helpless.

Nonetheless, thanks to the social media, it is heartening that a number of well-meaning citizens are putting in their best efforts in this hour of need. Be it providing free transport for patients to reach hospitals or free meals and ration to home isolated families, from arranging plasma or the much needed oxygen to hospital bed coordination, there are so many helping hands rendering exemplary service to affected people and their families in numerous ways.

These "volunteers" are not rich or famous. But they are indeed making a difference by their actions. 34-year-old Javeed, an auto rickshaw driver in Bhopal is in news for rendering humanitarian service. Pained by TV visuals showing people dying for want of an ambulance, he was quick to convert his auto into one with minimum basic facilities like an oximeter, sanitiser, oxygen cylinder etc. During the past three days, it is said that he was able to save at least 15 lives by rushing them to the nearest hospital for free.

Akin to Gurudwaras serving vegetarian meals (“langars”) to people irrespective of class, a 24x7 “oxygen langar” recently launched in Uttar Pradesh’s Ghaziabad provides free oxygen to those who need them. The specially set up tent caters to about 80 persons but volunteers also make available oxygen cylinders right inside the cars for those who are not in a position to enter its premises.

Mr Kiran Verma, a school dropout-tuned-social activist has reportedly done over 600 trips during last month for free to anyone desirous of donating their plasma at a blood bank in and around Delhi NCR. He also arranges food and medicines to people in need at their doorstep. His entrepreneurial venture “Simply Blood” a blood donation initiative launched in 2017 is believed to have facilitated tens of thousands of blood seekers across many countries.

The above are just a few examples.

On the other hand as more and more needy people turn towards our social media platforms, ostensibly for help, some of the malicious crooks in disguise seem to waste no time in cashing in on the turmoil. They use psychological manipulation to gain the victim’s trust only to exploit the vulnerable - ultimately siphoning away their money.

Lured by an unverified social media post that promised ICU beds for COVID-19 patients within the shortest possible time against hefty advance payments as commission, many unsuspecting families in Bengaluru who were in desperate need for ICU beds for their near and dear ones fell into the trap. The matter came to light after an aggrieved victim despite paying over Rs 20,000, per bed, in advance did not get the promised ICU beds. Consequently after he lost both his symptomatic parents, he approached the police leading to the arrest of a 31-year-old housing contractor Manish Sarkar. It was found that by circulating his contact number on social media groups and assuring ICU beds in hospitals, Sarkar was able to make quick money by fooling nearly 17 families and taking advantage of the prevailing situation. He is said to have confessed that he did not have any contacts in any hospital.

Similarly, last month, a number of people, reportedly with symptoms like fever and cough in Delhi NCR, fell prey to unverified social media posts which not only promised door-step collection of samples for COVID-19 but also assured providing the reports quickly. Many probably thought that door-step collection of samples was a wiser option instead of stepping out of one’s home. Somebody did visit their homes with an authorised RT-PCR test kit, collected the sample as also the full payment of Rs 1200/-per test sample. it was assured that the test report would be made available online soon. The test reports weren't received as promised. On contacting the lab, it was found that the person who collected the samples wasn't working for said lab at all.

More recently, police arrested 5 persons including a doctor from a Delhi-based diagnostic lab for allegedly forging COVID test reports. Two technicians attached to the lab had collected samples from about 50 people and one of them who was declared positive isolated himself. Finding no symptoms of COVID-19, he got himself tested at another lab only to find that he never had COVID. He visited the first lab that had declared him COVID positive and was surprised to find that his name and report was not available in their records. Investigations found that a doctor along with two technicians attached to the lab were providing such random test results after forging the lab’s letterhead in order to make easy money.

While there are numerous benefits that social media platforms may offer, getting carried away without proper verification can lead to avoidable consequences. Isn't it better to be safe than feel sorry later?

It needs to be appreciated that the current situation is overwhelming.  Primarily, from the epidemiology perspective, according to health experts, no one can predict where it is going. But evidently, implementation of public health measures and adoption of COVID-19 appropriate behaviours seem to be proven strategies to curtail virus transmission. 

So there is no need to panic.

While staying current with accurate news and health information is one thing, but when it comes to medical advice and health matters, there is an imperative need to have a dialogue with one’s doctor before proceeding further. 

At an individual's level, is important to decrease the amount of information that causes anxiety. It pays to shed all negativity, follow COVID appropriate behaviour, adhere to every safety protocol and imbibe the right culture of caution and restraint. 

Well, online social media merits to be handled with care and caution.

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