hate speech
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Tennis star Sania Mirza has made her thoughts very clear on the current spate of videos being posted on social media depicting stars, celebrities and the average Joe (or Jill) showing off their humble attempts in the kitchen while spending time creatively during the coronavirus self-isolation.

“Aren’t we done with posting cooking videos and food pictures yet? Just spare a thought — there are hundreds of thousands of ppl, specially in our side of the world starving to death and struggling to find food once a day if they are lucky [sic],” the six-time Grand Slam title winner posted on social media.

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Sania Mirza Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Her April 4 Twitter post received more than 2,400 comments in 24 hours, with several siding with Mirza, while others took objection to her stance.

“Not everyone can cope in the same way and we definitely cannot force people to act a certain way on social media. Lot of people are dealing with anxiety and mental issues staying indoors, and if this makes them feel better doesn’t mean they are not empathetic to others needs,” Twitter user Agamoni Ghosh responded.

Mirza’s celebrity status may have drawn more attention to her tweet, but the post itself and the reaction has presented a divided front and brings into focus how individuals are coping with the quarantine and self-isolation.

Dubai-based Ann Clark* has been finding it difficult to deal with the “judgement” and the “confrontational behaviour” on social media ever since the coronavirus pandemic started dominating news headlines. “People calling out others on social media, illegally taking pictures of those outdoors who may have just stepped out for a grocery run or simply finding fault with one’s inability to handle self-isolation is alarming,” Clark told Gulf News.

Clark eventually quit social media, saying her sanity was more precious to her during this trying time. Yet, the phenomenon of online trolling isn’t limited to any one community or country alone. Last month, climate activist Greta Thunberg took to social media to discuss the growing pandemic.

“We can’t solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis and we must unite behind experts and science. This, of course, goes for all crises. Now the experts urge us to avoid big public gatherings for a better chance to #flattenthecurve and slow the spreading of the coronavirus,” the teenager tweeted.

In response, one troll hoped she “gets coronavirus and dies”. While another told her to go “get stuffed”.

‘The Good Place’ actress Jameela Jamil, who has often faced online abuse for her opinions, was forced to go online and write about the online trolling that had become visible in wake of the virus.

“If you’re gonna make a joke about how I am going to be the first actress with coronavirus, ya late and ya basic [sic],” she tweeted. “Joking about my mental and physical health doesn’t hurt me as much as other more vulnerable people with chronic illness/invisible disability/actual Munchausen’s.”

The US, which is currently dealing with its own distance learning roll-out as schools shut across the country, has also witnessed a spike in comments on social media, WhatsApp chats and various other groups, where the inability to deal with the change itself has resulted in a war of words between parents struggling to cope with work and children at home and individuals who are calling them out as ‘selfish’ and not considering the greater good.

In a recent study by Time magazine, experts were quoted as saying that social media was actually “changing the way society is perceiving and responding to the COVID-19 outbreak”.

“We’re seeing a worrying trend where specific behaviours triggered by fear and anxiety — such as loading up on toilet rolls or hand sanitisers — get normalised and further diffused because they are constantly discussed on social media,” Santosh Vijaykumar, a health and risk communication researcher at Northumbria University, told the magazine. “The flip side could be true, too — if people see photos of their friends out and about on Instagram, ignoring the call to practice ‘social distancing’, they might be more likely to go out, too.”

UAE’s happiness campaign

As the National Sterlization Programme gets extended to 24 hours in Dubai over the next two weeks, the UAE is getting proactive in recognising the need of the hour by launching a National Programme for Happiness and Well-being, NPHW, to provide for mental support for all residents to help them overcome the psychological impact from the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the country’s Emirates News Agency, more than 50 experts in the fields of psychology, mental and social support and life skills are participating in this online initiative, which comprises three components starting with ‘Let’s Support, Together’, with daily online live sessions at 8.30pm in which mental health professionals and experts provide mental support and offer the necessary tips and guidance to help people overcome the challenges they face under these special circumstances.

The second component, ‘Let’s Reassure, Together’, is a series of short, focused, awareness-raising videos prepared by a group of mental health professionals, experts and life skills coaches, providing information on the means to build coping skills and mental resilience.

The third component, ‘Let’s Talk, Together’, is a series of virtual support groups that provide mental support to various community segments, including mothers, students, and elderly caregivers, who may need support to face the current situation. All these will be available online through the @HappyUAE social media channels.

Elsewhere, as UAE-based photographer and a local fashion brand have launched a campaign to promote ‘unity’ during the pandemic.

sukoun° identity studio and photographer Waleed Shah, along with fashion label exhale have launched the #CompassionIsContagious Campaign to communicate empathy. Through images and photographs, the campaign urges the community to unite and partake in an anti-divide-and-conquer strategy to eliminate racial discrimination, promote self-awareness of one’s actions, thoughts and their impact on the community during the rise of COVID-19.

“The aim is to highlight and emphasise that we are currently dealing and adapting to all that is going on in the world as a collective,” explains Nawal El Masri, Founder and Director of exhale. “We are experiencing life as a single unit, no matter our ethnicity, our culture and our background; that we are nobody to judge, to discriminate, seclude or behave in any way that is not human.

“We are endowed with multiple human elements such as intuition, emotion, feeling and connecting, which many of us forget to tap into. The aim is to awaken your most basic human elements in order to come together during a challenging time.”

Photographer Shah added: “This virus doesn’t discriminate. It has no racial, political or gender bias. Let’s recognise that, adapt its very strategy and come together as humans to help combat its severity.”

*Ann Clark’s identity changed as requested.