On most days, Network Capital, a business networking group of over 67,000 Facebook (FB) members, focuses on providing updates on job openings, higher education, and employment to its audience.
However, as a devastating second wave of Covid-19 sweeps India, the community has been inundated with posts from users looking for hospital beds, oxygen, and medicines. Critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he is to blame for the pandemic, citing decisions to allow large crowds to gather.
Members of the Facebook community, mainly Indian professionals, have been quick to respond to requests for assistance, sharing comprehensive Google (GOOGL) spreadsheets with information on medical suppliers and volunteer organizations.
“In such times of political polarization, it leaves you with a lot of hope when you see people come together like this,” said Utkarsh Amitabh, a former Microsoft (MSFT) employee who started Network Capital on Facebook in 2016.
He isn’t the only one using social media to coordinate relief efforts.
As India’s Covid-19 crisis has worsened in recent weeks, American social media behemoths have become beacons of hope for millions of people. Since the pandemic started, the world’s second most populated nation has seen over 18 million cases, and its healthcare system has crumbled under the strain, with hospitals running out of oxygen and drugs.
Distressed patients and their families have taken to Twitter (TWTR), Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and LinkedIn, pleading for support as authorities struggle to provide adequate information.
SOS calls have been amplified by social media influencers ranging from Bollywood celebrities and cricketers to comic artists and entrepreneurs. Others also volunteered to cook meals for Covid-19 patients, clean their houses, and walk their dogs. Some people have also used the dating app Tinder to find support for friends.
Companies and nonprofit organizations have initiated donation campaigns on LinkedIn, according to Ashutosh Gupta, LinkedIn’s country manager for India, in an email. One way Indians can feel like they’re helping, according to Raheel Khursheed, Twitter’s former head of news in India.
“It is endearing to watch others help Covid-19 patients on Twitter, but it is also distressing to see how little we can do,” said Khursheed, who now runs a video streaming company. “We don’t know what to do in a pandemic. I don’t have an oxygen cylinder lying at home, so other than amplifying, I can’t do much.”
Even as Indians take to social media in the midst of one of the country’s darkest periods, Modi appears to be cracking down on the main platforms in an effort to quell dissent. At the behest of the Indian government, Twitter deleted many tweets about Covid-19 last month, including those that were critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s handling of the pandemic.
New Delhi’s interference has placed social media firms in a tough spot in one of their most important markets, pitting them against their customers and a government that recently adopted new legislation that could make them responsible for failing to remove contentious content.
Every day, photos of the agony unfolding in India are posted on social media, amid mounting public outrage at the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for failing to contain the vicious second wave. People are using trending hashtags like #ResignModi, #SuperSpreaderModi, and #WhoFailedIndia to post critical comments in addition to asking for support.
When asked about its India-related traffic during this surge, Facebook sent CNN Business a list of seven community groups working on pandemic-related issues. Twitter declined to reveal the number of Covid-related posts on its platform in India, and when asked about its India-related traffic during this surge, Facebook sent CNN Business a list of seven community groups working on pandemic-related issues.
India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said in a statement last week that it had asked Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms to delete about 100 posts by users it accused of sharing false or misleading information. According to the ministry, users spread “panic” about the new Covid-19 wave by “using unrelated, obsolete, and out of context photos or visuals, communally sensitive tweets, and misinformation about Covid-19 protocols.”
The tweets were withheld in India, according to a Twitter spokesperson, but they were still visible to users outside the country. Modi is particularly active on Twitter, where he has more than 41 million followers.
Many social media users were outraged by the government order, accusing New Delhi of concentrating on its own reputation rather than the crisis.
Pratik Sinha, co-founder of the fact-checking website Alt News, does not believe the government’s argument that it was after fake news. “There are hundreds of thousands of posts with fake news on social media during the pandemic, why to take down only these 100 and let the others stay?” he said. “A lot of the tweets [which were removed] were in the form of opinion with no element of misinformation,” he added.
Opposition politicians posted some of the tweets, blaming Modi for the disastrous Covid-19 wave.
Pawan Khera, a spokesman for the opposition Congress party, filed a legal notice with Twitter seeking reinstatement of his seat, in which he challenged the Modi government’s decision to allow mass gatherings at the Kumbh Mela, one of the world’s largest religious pilgrimages, and to hold election rallies. The removal of his tweets was described as “arbitrary” and “illegal” in the notice. A request for comment from Twitter has gone unanswered.