One of the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and the nationwide lockdown has been the spread of unverified news and rumours, often causing panic and anxiety among citizens. India has seen its fair share of rumour mongering during this crisis, making the job of news and media companies incredibly challenging. Even as people look to TV news channels and newspapers for information, a good number of them are also taking to microblogging and social networking platform, Twitter to connect with the authorities and to get updates on real time. Mahima Kaul, Director, Public Policy, India and South Asia, Twitter says that it is at times like these that the platform works overtime along with relevant authorities to ensure that the information on the platform is authentic.
KEEPING INFORMATION RELIABLE
Kaul explains that the company has been quick to deploy new tools and means to help Indian citizens get real time information that is reliable. “We have realized the important role that our service plays, especially during a pandemic like this. People are confined to their homes and are coming to social media platforms to get information and to hear directly from the government, scientists, journalists and academics.” Kaul adds that the platform is also working closely with authorities, both national and international, to ensure that they get accurate information in a timely manner. “Another thing we are doing is taking down dehumanising language because people do look for blame during these times of crisis. Twitter has also upped the amount of machine learning and AI, using a lot more technology to be able to seek out this negative content and harmful accounts, and be able to action those in real time,” she adds.
ON PARTNERING WITH THE GOVERNMENT
Last month, the ministry of health and family welfare got Twitter Seva on board to help people find quick responses to their health-related queries during the pandemic. Through this move, users on Twitter can get their concerns addressed by tweeting to @CovidIndiaSeva. Kaul explains how the platform is working with multiple authorities to ensure that citizen’s fears and concerns are resolved quickly. “We’ve been working with the government on COVID related responses. One part of it is at the state-level, where we have state governments that have set up dedicated handles to answer people’s questions on both, the coronavirus and on the lockdown. Along with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, we also have launched Twitter Seva, a handle meant to respond at scale to questions around coronavirus and to address any misinformation or provide medical information that people might seek. We are happy to be working with the Ministry, and I think it just reinforces the strength of Twitter at a time like this.”
ENABLING PUBLIC OUTREACH
The company has also rolled out a community outreach initiative called #EachOneReachOne in order to bring people together to share information, remove social stigma attached to the disease, promote mental health and to drive donations for those in need. Speaking about the initiative, Kaul says, “Through this initiative, we work with NGOs to have important conversations about mental health, how to help relief efforts, how to donate, etc. The hashtag runs in Hindi also and it’s called ‘ek dusre ke liye’. People are looking for that human connection and we’re really happy to be able to serve that on Twitter.”