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Fake stories of suffering by social media ‘influencers’ amidst COVID-19 outbreak: What it says about our moral compass?

In testing times, do not lose your faith in humanity. People with their hearts in right place are giving all the could to help those in need. Do not let few bad cases stop you from doing good. Do good anyway.

For the last few weeks, India has been grappling with a resurgent coronavirus outbreak that threatens to overwhelm the country’s health care system. States across the country, particularly Maharashtra and Delhi, started reporting an alarming spike in the daily new cases, contributing immensely to the rising tally of the COVID-19 cases.

Over 2.5 lakh new coronavirus cases are being reported for the last few days, the highest since the start of the pandemic last year. Hospitals across the country, especially in the hotspot regions, are swarmed with patients infected with the virus and the health complications it brings in its wake.

Consequently, the country’s health care infrastructure came under tremendous strain as the number of people seeking medical intervention to combat COVID-19 grew exponentially. Unavailability of isolation and ICU beds, shortages of oxygen supplies and vital medicinal drugs such as Remdesivir were reported from several parts of the country.

Amidst times of distress, people turn to social media for salvation

A general wave of panic and anxiety swept across the country as people ran pillar to post in search of vacant hospital beds, medicinal oxygen cylinders and stocks of Remdesivir injections to help their closed-ones in their battle against the coronavirus. However, with the hospitals overstretched and the resources depleting, many failed in getting beds, oxygen cylinders or Remdesivir injections.

In such times of profound distress and adversity, many individuals took it upon themselves to compile the data of vacant beds available in the hospitals, contact details of suppliers who could provide medicinal oxygen and Remdesivir, and share the same on social media websites.

Several social media influencers jumped into the fray, extending every possible help that they could to the people in securing hospital beds, oxygen cylinders and vials of Remdesivir injections. Some of them even ran crowdfunding campaigns on social media to provide financial assistance to those who could not afford the exorbitant costs of fighting the coronavirus.

Social media websites, on their part, proved incredibly helpful to people who had otherwise lost hope in getting beds or securing life-saving drugs. It played a pivotal role in connecting people who were seeking help to those who were qualified and resourceful enough to offer assistance. However, as is the case with most things in life, this kindness also had a downside.

Crooks on social media exploit the COVID-19 crisis to line their pockets

While there were many genuine social media influencers who went out on a limb to extend assistance to people in need, there were some others who used the opportunity to feed on the vulnerability of the people in such testing times and take undue advantage of the crisis.

Many people on social media ran crowdfunding campaigns, alleging that the money from the donations would go towards helping the underprivileged who could not afford the cost of getting the treatment for COVID-19. They urged their followers to donate, in spades, to help such people in defraying their hospital and medicinal cost.

However, as it turned out, many of the stories that accompanied such crowdfunding requests were fabrications. The social media influencers had tried to illicitly collect funds by appealing to the sympathies of the people. Well-meaning folks who sincerely wanted to help the poor and the needy ones and even those who themselves needed help saw themselves being duped by these morally bankrupt social media influencers.

A Twitter user recently exposed one of the social media users who was purporting to raise money, allegedly for a sister with COVID-19. When the Twitter user contacted the hospital to seek details of the patient, the social media user deleted all her tweets and blocked her.

Baffled, the Twitter user tried out to find out if the hospital was charging excessive from the patients for the COVID-19 treatment. As it turned out, the hospital owners were probably innocent and were working round the clock to treat the COVID-19 patients.

Another social media user Abhishek Dwivedi revealed how he found every single story of his Instagram friend helping people with oxygen cylinders fake.

There are also reports doing the rounds on the internet about people posting pictures of life-saving medicines, including Remdesivir, on social media and taking orders with advance payment.

In utter desperation, some people send money, but the life-saving drugs never arrive.

Donors should exercise caution before getting swayed to donate

The aforementioned instances are but a few cases when social media influencers are exposed for their depravity. There are, surely, many other cases that do not come to the fore because the donors simply do not bother to check if the money they had donated ever reached the actual beneficiary or not.

Based on the emotional appeal of the posts uploaded by social media influencers, people proceed to donate money without making any effort to verify if the cause is legitimate and the beneficiary authentic. Most folks make their donations and carry on with their lives, believing that they did their ‘part’ of the duty.

The lethargy in not seeking additional details of the suspicious crowdfunding campaigns also can be attributed to the celebrity endorsement the cause gets. When people see celebrities or famous personalities endorsing a crowdfunding campaign, they usually take its authenticity for granted.

In many cases, celebrities who endorse such crowdfunding campaign do not bother to ascertain if the money pooled is routed to the beneficiary. It is, therefore, incumbent upon the donors to remain vigilant and authenticate the cause before donating. It is pertinent for them to bear in mind that some unscrupulous individuals are lurking on social media to prey on their empathy to feather their own nest.

And what’s worse? Because of a few immoral individuals, even those who genuinely want to help others are viewed with suspicion. The skulduggery of select individuals undercuts the efforts of a large number of well-meaning social media users who are earnestly and tirelessly assisting people in the fight against COVID-19. It is, therefore, important to make the distinction between the two so that those who need help are not deprived of it. The diminishing moral conscience of a few perverse individuals should not impinge on the altruist efforts of many.

The moral bankruptcy of social media ‘influencers’ to concoct fake stories of people’s sufferings amidst pandemic

These incidents, however, reflect our society’s decaying moral compass, where making profits takes precedence over preserving and nurturing ideals of honesty and integrity. People have become so callous and indifferent to the sufferings of others that they have no qualms in exploiting them to advance their purpose.

While one doesn’t expect crooks to have ethical precepts guiding their behaviour, they are, nonetheless, still expected to exhibit basic decency. Perhaps, it is a tad too much to expect.

The COVID-19 outbreak has wreaked havoc across the world, including in India. There have been thousands of deaths precipitated by the complications caused by the coronavirus. The situation is grim as governments around the world have struggled to contain the infection. To use this global crisis to illicitly make money by concocting fake stories of sufferings and travails endured by people takes a particularly egregious kind of moral debasement.

However, in testing times, do not lose your faith in humanity. People with their hearts in right place are giving all the could to help those in need. Do not let few bad cases stop you from doing good. Do good anyway. We are in this together. And we shall emerge stronger and kinder out of this mess.

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Jinit Jain
Engineer. Writer. Learner.

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