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Rise in digital community support amid coronavirus outbreak

Facebook and neighbourhood app Nextdoor both report a swell in activity around supporting other people in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

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Girl views apps on smartphone

Social media platforms have revealed a sharp rise in the creation of groups designed to offer support to those most vulnerable to the outbreak of Covid-19.

Facebook says more than 200,000 people in the UK are already part of over 300 local support groups created to help support others during the virus outbreak.

While Nextdoor, the app which connects those who live in the same area, says the creation of groups aimed at offering local support had risen around 15 times compared to a week ago, with the majority directly linked to helping those impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The rise has coincided with more people self-isolating to try and prevent the further spread of infection.

Thousands of Britons have joined local Facebook groups offering food and support for elderly and vulnerable people during the coronavirus outbreak.

The groups, named Covid-19 Mutual Aid, have been set up in most London boroughs, cities including Manchester, Newcastle and Birmingham, as well as smaller towns throughout the UK.

Examples of support on Facebook have included the creation of printable postcards which can be dropped through neighbours’ letterboxes, with offers to pick up shopping, post mail or even just join them for a “friendly phone call”.

Nextdoor says it has seen members step in to deliver groceries and other items after connecting via the platform.

Nick Lisher, head of Europe, Middle East and Africa at Nextdoor, said he believed people had turned to the app because it allowed people to instantly reach those in their own neighbourhood.

“There’s this dual issue going on, where in some of our neighbouring European countries that are experiencing higher levels of recommended isolation than we are, that people want to help, communities want to come together, but we also want to be responsible,” he told the PA news agency.

“And we also want to make sure that we don’t increase the spread of infection.

Nextdoor app
Nextdoor enables people in the same neighbourhood to connect with one another (Nextdoor)

“This is where we think hopefully a digital tool can come into its own in that Nextdoor is unique in that the principal way in which people connect on Nextdoor is that they share something in common which is very important for them; their neighbourhood.

“When it comes to supply shortages, when it comes to helping people pick up things locally, suddenly having a really strong local network is important.

“But at the same time we want to be responsible, we want to stem the spread of the pandemic so we don’t want to be encouraging big meet-ups, we don’t want to be having people expose themselves to possible infection so being able to check in on each other digitally on an app like Nextdoor becomes vitally important.”

With concerns over misinformation around Covid-19 also prominent, Mr Lisher said Nextdoor had introduced a new flagging feature which asked users to consider referencing from official NHS guidance if the app stopped they were talking about the virus.

“We’ve seen that work in other areas of the site and it’s a real help when it comes to making people think about what they’re posting and think about the power of what they’re posting as well,” he said.

“We often think we’re only talking to an individual when we’re talking on social media when actually we could be talking to thousands of people so giving people that pause and that moment to think about that they’re doing is really important.”

He added that he had not seen intentional misinformation on the platform, but said the site had also added a tool which allowed users to specifically flag a post as coronavirus misinformation.

“What that does is jump the queue of our community management team and they will review it immediately,” he said.

On Facebook, the social network said it was working closely with group administrators to ensure they had all the support they needed.

The site has also updated its search results so that official NHS and World Health Organisation guidance appear at the top of searches about the outbreak.

Head of community partnerships in Europe, Brie Rodgers Lowery said: “It’s been heartening to see so many inspirational actions and stories from across the UK.”

“People are rallying round to support their neighbours and communities through hundreds of Facebook Groups which have sprung up in the last few days alone – staying connected to support each other during these difficult times.

“Our teams are keeping in touch with thousands of group admins to ensure they have the resources they need to provide their communities with accurate and helpful information.”

The National Food Service (NFS), an organisation aimed at tackling food insecurity, is now also stepping in to offer the volunteers safeguarding training to help with issues such as data protection.

Louise Delmege, director of NFS Bristol, said: “I’ve been amazed by the quick response of the mutual aid groups. These have sprung up so quickly and are already forming into well-organised and thoughtfully co-ordinated groups.

“It’s fantastic to see so many people engaging with this, including a huge number who have never considered self-organised working before.”

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