From chatbots to advanced search features, here are some ways in which you can effectively use social media platforms to find COVID-19 resources in India.
The second wave of COVID-19 has hit India hard, bringing the country’s healthcare system to its knees.
Daily cases started to surge rapidly from mid-March, and have shown no signs of abating. On May 7, daily COVID-19 cases in India reached a record high of over 414,000. Worse, hospitals across Indians states have continue to run out of supplies, resulting in a severe shortage of medical oxygen, hospital beds, and medicines to treat patients.
Amid this crisis, social media has been flooded with requests for patients in need of resources. From engineers, lawyers, and NGO workers, to doctors, and influencers, people from all walks of lives have mobilized online to help those in need.
“I feel choked with emotions,” Rajni Gill told The New York Times. Gill, who had COVID-19, was nearly unconscious in a hospital when her sister posted a plea for plasma on social media. Her request was quickly amplified and Gill was able to get plasma in time, all thanks to the good samaritans on social media.
“Coming out of such a fatal time, I realize I have been helped selflessly by complete strangers,” Gill added.
However, with a barrage of information being shared on social media, finding the right resource can be daunting, especially when it is time-sensitive. Nonetheless, from chatbots to volunteer groups, there have been multiple attempts across platforms to streamline verified information.
Here are some ways in which you can effectively use social media platforms to find COVID-19 resources.
Finding COVID-19 resources on social media platforms
Twitter has emerged as one of the most helpful social media spaces for users to find COVID-19 resources. Every day, scores of users post SOS calls, amplify requests, or connect those in need with those who can help, via the social media platform.
Users can access the platform’s dedicated COVID-19 hub through the Explore tab. Under this tab, a COVID-19 SOS page shows real-time leads for hospital beds, oxygen, medicines, and more. It also features SOS calls by those seeking help. The COVID-19 hub is regularly updated with the latest news and other COVID-19 related information.
Twitter also recently updated its advanced search features to enhance search functions for COVID-9 resources on its platform. The updates help users filter tweets according to the resources they are searching for.
“All across the country, people are using Twitter to find the latest information and access to resources right now,” Twitter India tweeted. “As this people’s movement unfolds, we wanted to remind you of some of the features that could help you find what you’re looking for faster #Covid19IndiaHelp.”
How to search for leads on Twitter
When searching for leads on Twitter, users should make sure to use relevant hashtags such as #Covid19IndiaHelp, #COVIDIndiaSOS, and #COVIDEmergencyIndia. They can also benefit from tagging accounts of Twitter users with a large following, and who are regularly sharing leads. Their retweets can help amplify requests to a larger audience.
Meanwhile, if you want the most recent tweets to show up on the top of your timeline, tap the sparkle button on the top right of your home timeline.
Here’s step-by-step guide to using Twitter’s search feature for COVID-19 leads:
- Log in to twitter.com and make a simple search on the website’s top right corner. When Twitter shows the results, a “Search Filters” tab shows up on the top right. Under this tab, you can click the “Near You” option if you want to find tweets closer to your current location.
- Click on the Advanced Search option to access the advanced search feature. Alternately, you can click “More” next to the search bar, and then click “Advanced Search”. You can also access it directly here.
- Once you are on the advanced search menu, use filters such as all of these words, this exact phrase, and any/none of these words to find exactly what you are looking for. You can also specify which accounts you want the information from.
- Moreover, under the engagement tab, you can search for tweets based on their engagement, such as the minimum replies, likes, or retweets it has received.
- Lastly, under the dates tab, you can specify dates so that only tweets from specific dates show up.
Additionally, there are aggregator tools that collate results from Twitter in real-time. This tool, for instance, can narrow your search based on details such as the name of the city, or the resource you are looking for. You can also use the tool to find tweets near you, verified tweets, and more.
Covidcitizens.org is a recently-launched citizen-driven community initiative. It has set up an AI-based WhatsApp bot – IntroBot – to facilitate access to verified critical COVID-19 resources across India.
While information regarding beds, oxygen cylinders, plasma, ambulances, and other critical COVID-19 resources have flooded social media, it is often unverified or not readily available. Covidcitizens.org solves this by consolidating sources of information, verifying it, and uploading it into a centralized database.
The service is free to use, and can be accessed on their website, WhatsApp helpline, or Fireside audio-based helpline. The evolving database is updated by a team of volunteers as well as through user feedback.
It is important to note that users will still have to make many calls to find help. However, IntroBot can help reduce the number of calls by providing the most recently verified information.
Here how you can find resources using IntroBot:
- Access IntroBot here or by saving the number +12345178991. It is accessible on both the mobile and desktop versions of WhatsApp.
- Type “COVID” and the bot will respond with next steps.
- Next, type your requirement in the format of X in Y. For instance, if you are looking for oxygen beds in Bengaluru, type “oxygen beds in Bengaluru.”
- The bot will send you contact details of a possible resource, along with the details of when it was last verified. You can now reach out to the resource directly.
- If the contact was unresponsive or the requirement out of stock, text “unresponsive” or “out of stock” to the bot. In this case, it will send you the contact of another resource.
- If any of the contacts are able to help you, be sure to text “helpful” so that the bot can update the database.
Telegram has several public groups where users share verified COVID-19 resources across various cities. ICLU-YKA: Covid Response is one such group, where volunteers share verified information regarding the availability of medicine, oxygen, ICUs, and more, along with the date and time at which these leads were verified. Users can join the group and search for required information.
Meanwhile, a website called Under45.in has set up a feature to alert users via Telegram when a vaccination slot is available in a center near them. To use the service, go to their website, enter the state and district, and choose the Telegram notification option.
Users will then be taken to a channel corresponding to their district, which they can join. The channel will send alerts to the user whenever slots are available in their vicinity, along with the number of available slots and the availability date.
Similar to Telegram, several groups are available on Facebook to help those in crisis. HumanKind Global, for instance, posts verified leads across India on a daily basis. Its 60,000 members can post any requirements on the group as well.
Gurgaon Helpline, a private group on Facebook, also helps members in finding hospital beds, doctors, plasma, and other resources in Gurugram, near Delhi (currently one of the worst affected cities in India). Their sister group – Gurgaon Food Freak – connects home chefs with members looking for home-cooked food in the city.
Furthermore, Facebook has a dedicated COVID-19 information tab on both its mobile app and desktop, providing official information and announcements from the government. Additionally, in partnership with the Government of India, Facebook will soon roll out a vaccine finder tool on its mobile app in India.
Important points to remember
Whether you are seeking help on social media platforms or websites, here are some critical points that you should keep in mind:
- Information shared by individuals may not always be accurate. Make sure to double-check and verify contacts you find on various platforms.
- Refrain from making advance payments. Several reports of fraudsters duping those in need of COVID-19 resources have emerged.
- As there is a massive surge in demand, contacts found through various social media platforms are likely to quickly run out of resources. Don’t give up.
- When seeking help, make sure to mention all the important details, including the specific requirement you need. This can help expedite the process. For instance, mention whether you are seeking an ICU bed with or without a ventilator. Not all hospitals have both.
- The following details should also be included when posting for help – patient’s name, age, location, blood oxygen or SPO2 Level, CT scan severity ratio (if done), name, and number of the person in contact.