Diary Of A Social Media COVID Helpline Activist
It’s as normal a Tuesday as it can be, under a lockdown amidst the pandemic. I have the privilege to stay at home and continue with my life as usual without putting myself at risk. Instagram becomes an outlet for my frustration towards the government. Belonging to the socialist left, I make snarky comments about the failures of the administration and an analysis of the collapse of the healthcare systems in India, still not realising the intensity of the situation till I get a text from my friend enquiring if I know someone who could find her father an oxygen cylinder. I call up everyone I possibly could, thinking it would just take dialling a couple of numbers to find an oxygen cylinder. How difficult could it possibly be, right? After an hour of calling every number, I realise otherwise.
Having been turned down, the gravity of the situation starts to set in. It’s nearly impossible to find resources at this time. My friend texts me to inform me that the patient’s oxygen had fallen to 75 and panic sets in. I frantically call every number I can find on anyone’s story that has leads for oxygen. By now, it has been three hours of trying to find an oxygen cylinder. My friend subsequently informs me that the patient, her father, had passed away. The grief is inexplicable, and I ask myself if this is my fault over and over again till the next morning. As time progresses, I question if this is even my grief to feel at all. After all, what do I know about what it’s like to lose a loved one to COVID?
I continue to receive leads for oxygen cylinders till I post a story on my Instagram saying, “thank you, all the people who sent me leads last night but our friend’s father is no more”. I decided to compile all the resources I had acquired the night before and put them up on my Instagram story in hopes that it would reach someone who needs it.
People started reaching out and the only way I could redeem my privilege would be to help as many people as I could in whatever way I can. I decide to compile verified leads every day and post them on my story. People started reaching out to me. Over the course of two weeks from 22 April, I got countless direct messages from hopeful family members of covid patients asking for leads for medicine, oxygen, hospital beds and medical equipment. I tried my best to help and in exchange People let me partake in the joy of finally finding resources just when #verified leads started to seem like a mirage.
I became a home for people’s grief and hope, hope that I still don’t feel like I deserve to have been entrusted with. I still haven’t figured out the words in which I can talk about the love and hope that people clung to for their loved ones. The mourning of a loved one and the grief that comes with death seems so far away till people who you tried to help tell you about the loss of a loved one every day. I still don’t think I have figured out the ways in which one is to grieve to understand and transverse from bereavement like this. I continue to grapple with the question of how I can mourn the death of someone’s grandfather whom I’ve never met, someone’s mother who was their only parent, a brother who was the families sole breadwinner and whether it would be dishonest to tell people that there’s still ways to hold love and hope beyond the death of someone they loved.
When someone, who reached out to find plasma, described how she held the frail hand of her father promising to take him home knowing she never will, my resentment against the government and Instagram reached a boiling point as I get my first notification, warning me that my account might be deleted because I was not following the community guidelines and how my post about an oxygen lead had been taken down. Yes, this is Instagram taking down my posts because my posts go against “community guidelines” amidst the second wave of the pandemic at a point in time when the government has failed so miserably the only way to get to resources is through the leads of strangers on the internet. As I read the “community guidelines” all I can think of is how there will soon no longer exist a community to protect against the supposedly inflammatory information about the oxygen cylinder I had put up on my stories.
Over the next few days, multiple posts critical of the government were taken down from my Instagram under the guise of it being red-flagged as “fake news”. All these posts were critical of the government’s lack of accountability, mismanagement of funds, refusal of U.N Aid and religious appeasement while India reports 4,00,000 daily COVID cases for the third week in a row. My criticism is a red flag to Instagram’s community guidelines while legacy media houses display a daily lack of conscience still only trying to grapple with the question if the Prime Minister must go through “agni pariksha” as the world around us continues to go up in flames. Asking the question if the democratically elected leader of a country facing its worst healthcare crisis should even be questioned. Other volunteers with whom I had become friends informed that their posts too were being taken down and chats were being deleted. All our accounts have been shadowbanned.
Not only is Instagram not providing resources to volunteers who are trying to help people find lifesaving resources, but it’s also trying its best to hinder the process. I decided to continue being openly critical and have received multiple notifications from Instagram warning that my account shall be deleted while far-right accounts that incite communal violence, spread false news, continue to praise our fascist government and give rape threats to volunteers continue to thrive without hindrance. Social media channels that were being put to good use are also being taken away from individuals who are trying to channel all their resources and energy towards assisting people.
Indeed. It is an eerie reminder of Orwell’s prophecy. The weapon for totalitarianism is control over the dissemination of information. The subjects have to be made to believe that they are being well-fed, taken care of, and protected even if they are being starved. The facts must switch to propaganda, and the propaganda must appear as a fact. The State, to impose a ‘veil of ignorance, must require proper machinery and a conducive environment. Social media has turned into a weapon at the only time when it could be used as a platform for medical aid and community service. Instagram knows better. India is one of their biggest markets. The consumers may die, but the market must thrive. So it cannot risk annoying the government. If one is to imagine what it is like to stomp a boot endlessly on the face of a dying and helpless man, one needs only to look at this nation. Instagram is the boot buried in the face of the victim.
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