Social Media and the floods

If Captain Cool aka Chennai Super Kings’ captain MS Dhoni and Rajnikanth are anything to go by, it is no surprise that it takes a lot more for Chennai’s people to be riled and shaken out of their normal lives. Right up on top of the ladder with Mumbai’s resilience and Delhi’s activism, comes Chennai’s calmness. With the floods crossing all thresholds of acceptable levels, it became imperative for swift action to dispense aid, rescue and supplies to those in need. And what rose to the occasion? Social Media, of course!

From mobilizing aid to helping people avoid roads that were either clogged with water or traffic, civilian support rose to the occasion with regular updates on Facebook and Twitter, replete with pictures. Even as it was assumed that the city would come to a standstill with the power-cuts and internet connectivity challenges, phones were whisked into action. Twitter handles @chennairains and @chennaiweather came up with regular beats, updating people with stunning accuracy and authenticity of every instance of water levels rising, of vehicles getting stuck in water-logged areas.

Social Media proved to be an incredible boon in the face of disaster: as has been evidenced in the past by cases such as those of the Nepal Earthquake and myriads of other world crises – manmade or otherwise. There has always been a constraint as to authenticity on social media – especially where humanitarian crisis mapping goes, but the Chennai example is a perfect reflection of how authenticity comes to the forefront when humanity is placed before all other concerns – as a consequence, reports that came out of social media units turned out to be absolutely accurate, for the duration of their relevancy. An appreciable side-car is that social media helped keep the city’s spirits up – as the impending floods threatened to wreak havoc that the city has otherwise not known before, meme-culture became the hotbed of creativity. Social Media was a wonderful way for people to channel their anxieties, worries and fears through humour and conversation – for there is comfort in knowing that there’s support in the form of someone at the other end, looking at a computer screen or mobile device, going through the same thing as you.

One of the more inspiring tales emerging from this exercise is the resurgence of public transportation – but this time, as boats! What started as a meme and a source of amusement in the face of adversity soon became a clever way to deploy a business endeavour in a way that would service people. For Ola, it was a blend of both – assuming and performing in accordance with a sense of social responsibility, and, brand building. Ferrying free boat-rides out of water-logged areas, Ola has earned gratitude and respect from all quarters – beneficiaries (direct and indirect) and non-beneficiaries alike. The expediency of their deployment of these ferries is only reflective of their commitment to the cause.

What is especially commendable are the efforts that went into mobilizing humanitarian aid and supplies with exceptional speed through social media. Residents of Chennai came together to create a Facebook page, called Chennai Rain Relief 2015, and collected food, vegetables, grocery items and cooking oil to help provide for residents in water-logged areas. Inspired by the work of Iyyappan Subramaniam , who volunteered with the Arunodayam Trust, social media helped garner support and resources for the drive in a matter of minutes. The likes for the page flew from 10 to 350 within a few minutes of the page’s creation.

In war zones and in mobilizing protests against oppressive regimes, social media has been of exceptional use. In natural disaster, social media has been instrumental in bridging the gap between civilians in need and civilians willing to help – and has helped fill in the gaps in governmental action. A perfect reflection of the kind of commitment that society has exhibited in the bigger picture, Social Media has been a very pivotal tool in creating a communal culture of humanity. What it leaves you with, is the truth that though Social Media identities are reflective of demographics, when it comes to mobilizing, all it requires is a sense of commitment, a phone or computer with an internet connection. In creating an online space that enables communal giving, all of the boundaries that divide humanity are dissolved.

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