Digital Networks Aid the Vulnerable: Success Stories from Social Media

by Eklavya Tiwary and Jasma Bakshi


In the last decade, words like ‘share’, ‘like’, ‘follow’ have adopted slightly different connotations as opposed to their traditional definitions. This novel understanding stems from social media platforms that have emerged as massive virtual networks via online technologies. Amidst a global lockdown, many have taken to such platforms as a replacement to physical social interactions, even those at the bottom rungs of society. However, their mobilization of social media is independent of entertainment or social affinity, and rather intent on salvation. Daily wage earners, migrant workers, self-employed groups, and service sector employees (all who are struggling to suffice their livelihood) have produced appeals and pleas for help, despite many having no accessibility to technology. Their cry for aid is often conveyed by civil society, public and private sector groups. But how does this gain traction within the virtual network?

With social media, the content produced on it tends to circulate across the platform and often extends to other online platforms. Henry Jenkins and his fellow scholars have termed this as ‘spreadable media’ where social media platforms render digitally produced content to be easily shared and distributed (Lupton, 29). So, in the case of those stranded, their indirect access to technology allows them to share distress messages through social media. These messages, in whatever format they may be (audio/video/text), appeals to other users and upon their active-participation and decision-making, gets recirculated among a different set of users. The above happened, when a Twitter user posted details of 127 stranded women workers in Valsad, who had been left out when the Gujarat government ferried 15,18,000 migrant workers to their home states between May 2 and May 31. The group from Jharkhand wished to go back but claimed they were unaware of the train services. Through recirculation, the tweet gained ground and caught the notice of Shamsher Singh, Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), CID Crime, who then asked local police to investigate the matter. Eventually, the Valsad Superintendent of Police arranged for a special passenger train with a stoppage at Jharkhand to halt at Valsad station. In another case, Ajay Yadav, a worker stuck at Rakhial area of Ahmedabad, directly took to twitter to seek help from Bollywood actor, Sonu Sood, who has been proactive in helping migrant workers reach home (“Stranded Migrants Take to Social Media”).




Even among those groups and organizations that are on the grind trying to aid the vulnerable, social media has been a boon. A few friends from Mumbai with a significant social media following launched an initiative that provides food, PPE kits and masks to the vulnerable in Mumbai and Pune. One of them, Samarth Sharma says “With the lockdown in place, people have been spending a lot of time on social media. Our initiative has been possible only because of social media and my loyal fan base that helped me with spreading the message. Social media has emerged as a big influencer. We managed to feed 35,000 people in a week” (Chaturvedi). The claim is not wrong. A survey indicates that social media usage in India spiked upon the initial implementation of the lockdown and has since stabilized to a higher number in comparison to the weeks preceding lockdown (Keelery). Similarly, other NGO’s have also utilized the potential of social media. Sudhir Behrani, founder of Roti Bank has also commended the role of online networks. “It has been vital in garnering support for the cause of these migrant workers and daily wage labourers” (Chaturvedi).



In a digital society, social media produces its own virtual culture. Discourse is inherent to this culture and when linked with ‘virality’, becomes an essential tool in mobilizing support. The migrant crisis has incited some trying conversations about the gruesome conditions faced by the vulnerable communities on digital platforms, encouraging many to engage with the movement to provide relief. Venapani Seksaria, founder, Shakkar Paara project says that whilst contributing to the cause, she has formed unbreakable bonds with those whom she has never physically met. She adds, “Whether social media or word of mouth, it’s transparency and accountability that draws people to contribute to such causes. With people coming out and helping, both financially and on ground, it makes us realise that at least our hearts are in the right place” (Chaturvedi).

REFERENCES

Chaturvedi, Swati. “The Power of Social Media: Strangers Across India Connect to Help the Needy.” Hindustan Times,11 Jun. 2020,

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/the-power-of-social-media-strangers-across-india-connect-to-help-the-needy/story-4SJE2A2j2tCavGD0obMrxM.html

“Gujarat: Stranded Migrants Take to Social Media, Seek Help to Return Home.” Indian Express, 2 Jun. 2020,

https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/ahmedabad/gujarat-stranded-migrants-take-to-social-media-seek-help-to-return-home-6438112/

Keelery, Sandhya. “COVID-19 impact on weekly time spent using social networking apps India 2020.” Statista, 7 Jul. 2020,

https://www.statista.com/statistics/1114459/india-coronavirus-impact-on-weekly-usage-time-of-social-networking-apps/

Lupton, Deborah. “Theorising Digital Sociology.” Digital Sociology, Routledge, 2015, pp. 29-30.

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