Social media plays a huge role in the constant and widespread sharing of information — especially during a pandemic.
The ON COVID-19 Project, a group started by Western University Health Science graduate student Samanta Krishnapillai, provides fact-based updates about the coronavirus shared by its members throughout social media. The project began in May and have since amassed over 4,000 followers across platforms.
Over half of ON COVID-19 Project’s volunteers are Western students or alumni, who find credible information from online databases or academic journals on how to operate safely during a pandemic — such as the effectiveness of masks, proper hygiene and sanitation methods and even safe pandemic dating tips.
“It’s the information you both want and need,” she said.
Krishnapillai started the ON COVID-19 Project to establish a small online community hub where people could share information about the pandemic. Now, the project has expanded to include hundreds of volunteers who share graphics on social media which make it easy to digest scientific information.
Each volunteer is viewed as a “micro influencer” as they have their own audiences and communities. The variety of Arts, Social Sciences and STEM volunteers cater to their specific audiences while cooperating to provide cohesive content.
“Mainly, [the project] was a response to the lack of effective and direct communication to young people,” Krishnapillai said. “A part of me wanted to start the project because people really needed to talk to young people and the best people to do that were other young people.”
Through her studies in Health Science, Krishnapillai learned the importance — and difficulty — of attaining the health literacy necessary to understand the information government health officials provide.
“We are trying to build that capacity with our audience to give them the foundational knowledge to be able to learn more” she said.
Krishnapillai explained that official public health guidelines should be obeyed as much as possible, but it is still important for young people to be aware of how to minimize the harm and remain safe when doing higher-risk activities.
“The government just kept saying stay home, but a lot of young people either live alone, with roommates or in an environment where it may not be safe for them to stay home at all time,” Krishnapillai said. “So what are the strategies to stay safe? What are the harm reduction techniques that people could be taking to make safer choices if they were to break the rules?”
With the ON COVID-19 Project, Krishnapillai aims to communicate relevant harm reduction strategies to a younger audience, while remaining empathetic and easy to understand.
“Don’t talk down to them,” Krishnapillai said. “Social media can and should be used to talk to young people because that’s where they are.”
In addition to providing COVID-19 information to the community, Krishnapillai said she sees the project as valuable social activity for its volunteers, as it's an opportunity for both awareness and community service.
Krishnapillai explained that since there aren’t as many opportunities for community building and closer interactions and socialization during the pandemic, community efforts like the ON COVID-19 Project can help combat pandemic loneliness.
“There is so much going on, during the global pandemic, such as a mental health crisis,” she said. “Some people were feeling lost and wondering what they can do to give back — I know because that’s how I was feeling.”