COVID-19 is everything everyone can talk about in real life, which means it’s everything everyone can talk about on the internet, which means it’s everything everyone discusses on Reddit. There is r / Coronavirus (1.4 million members), r / Covid 19 (101,000 members), and the racist name r / China_flu (101,000 members, disappointing). These subreddits are quickly flooded with people looking for news of how the pandemic has brought global and health care systems to collapse. They are intended to disseminate information – and are, of course, victims of misinformation.
But there’s a much smaller, more intimate COVID-19 subreddit – Covid19_support, which has only 11,900 members – that’s something else to do. The service it offers to Reddit users is not that of news and information, but of emotional support.
A message in the r / Covid19_support group asked if someone else had trouble shopping for fear of getting sick, with a user who replied, “I’m not too afraid to get the virus, I think just seeing shelves will be empty or a lot of people buying it will stress me out.” Others responded with concerns for workers who were considered “essential”. Many of the messages are focused on a topic that concerns many people. What about our parents and grandparents? People have to make the difficult decision to isolate from family during a period when you want to be with them more than ever. Fortunately, members on r / Covid19_support are not alone in this battle.
Governments around the world have issued varying instructions on how to limit the spread of COVID-19, which for many people meant staying at home. But there is little evidence of how to do that life by a pandemic. How are quarantine life taken into account? What about people with mental health problems who are under pressure from isolation? What about the individuals who quarantine themselves who navigate the symptoms but don’t need immediate hospitalization – who’s talking to them?
As people around the world spend more time at home, those who have the privilege of accessing a phone or computer with a clear Wi-Fi signal can try to find support for the various problems that inevitably come with staying put, avoiding illness or simply trying to navigate the financial problems that have already hit many workers. r / Covid19_support also provides space for those most let down by our systems – those who may not be insured from sick leave and unable to work from home – to get some sort of advice on how to deal with the reality they face. A member with asthma (and older parents) posted about it have to stop working early because colleagues joked about ‘survival of the fittest’ and they couldn’t take it anymore.
“However, I think people will need more online forums as the outbreak progresses,” moderator u / JenniferColeRhuk tells WebMD The edge. “They want to ask questions that are very specific to them and their situation, which will not be easily answered by frequently asked questions or government advice. Or they see something they don’t quite understand and want someone to clarify it for them.”
Unlike most subreddits, which are free for everyone, r / Covid19_support has strict rules about who can post. It’s not that they want to censor the way people deal with the crisis, but moderators are trying to make the community ‘troll proof’. u / JenniferColeRhuk considers this of utmost importance when ‘you have people looking for reassurance and support’ in creating a space for people to feel their emotions freely about a grim reality.
The subreddit only requires a bit of moderation for misinformation as most users share their personal stories, not news. Of course, the moderators come down most to emotional matters. u / JenniferColeRhuk explains that there is no tolerance for redditors that don’t show the support of other users, especially if they provoke others. People can be banned for telling someone to “get a grip.”
r / Covid19_support was created from a post in r / Coronavirus by asking you / thatreddittherapist what everyone was doing for their mental health. That idea was picked up by u / JenniferColeRhuk, so they created r / Covid19_support together. ‘[The] the main difference from the other subs of COVID-19 is that they are mainly self-posts of people struggling with various aspects of the outbreak – concerned about their friends and family, or their own health, or what will happen to their work, ” u / JenniferColeRhuk says.
Those realities are existential. Members of the subreddit, like the rest of the world, braced themselves for the “New normal” if we look further at a pandemic that has yet to be controlled, an economy that is collapsing, and a global workforce that can no longer work. Internet access has become an indisputable necessity as many people socially distance themselves from their homes or anxiously wait for news of what is to come when they travel to work, risking illness to pay their rent. Subreddits like r / Covid19_support will continue to become more important as this pandemic takes its toll.
While the world is waiting for things to come, there is some comfort from anonymous strangers on the Internet who share that they too miss their parents, that they can’t handle boredom with their ADHD, and that they have also struggled with layoffs like due to the virus. There is an understanding hand of humanity that stretches in a latex glove to give you a pat on the back.
After being in my own house for eight days, I have often visited r / Covid19_support to find some kind of relief for the different voltages this has caused. I scroll through the subreddit while emphasizing whether there will really be a rental stop, while waiting for phone calls from home about my family members getting sick because they have a job considered “essential” because boredom alone my fears.
Until the pandemic is over, r / Covid19_support, whenever it is, can be one of the many ways people are trying to tackle the crisis together and alone in our bedrooms.