Caring in the age of a pandemic

By Lois Ann Dort    
March 25 2020

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the public has been subjected to fake news, occasional price gouging, and innovative con artists capitalizing on widespread fear of the unknown. In a reaction to the fearmongering that has often taken over social media in recent weeks, a new movement has taken root in Canada: “caremongering.”

The BBC first reported on caremongering Facebook groups on March 16, noting that caremongering was a typically Canadian reaction to the scaremongering seeded by the coronavirus pandemic.

Caremongering groups have spread across the country, starting in Toronto during the second week of March. Several days after the initial BBC report, a group was set up for the Antigonish – Guysborough area. The Journal spoke to two people behind the Caremongering Antigonish – Guysborough group last Friday: Jenny MacDonald of Guysborough County and Anthony Scoggins of Antigonish County.

“We launched it on Tuesday (March 17) and within the first 24 hours we ended up with about 800 members. The initial snowball went really fast, which is awesome,” said MacDonald of the Facebook group.

Speaking to how the idea for a local caremongering group came about, Scoggins said, “To be honest, it was a conversation over coffee amongst a bunch of coworkers (both MacDonald and Scoggins work for the Coady Institute in Antigonish). Some of us had seen the groups in Toronto and Halifax, which I think started on the weekend. We saw them started up and joined them just to track what was happening and what the conversation was and then we discussed it in passing on Monday.”

Many in the coworkers’ conversation heard or read the BBC article on Monday evening, which noted that a caremongering group had been set up in the Annapolis Valley. Scoggins said, “So the conversation around the coffee room (on Tuesday, March 17) was, ‘Gee whiz, if the folks around the Annapolis Valley can do it, we can certainly do it.’”

Those in the brainstorming stage of the discussion decided not to make the group a formal, institutional activity, said Scoggins. “It’s really a community-based initiative. It’s really what we do in our non-professional lives, and so we turned to people who really know how to do this stuff and that was Jenny (MacDonald). She’s our social media star. She said, ‘Alright, give me an hour,’ and boom, done. I’d like to say it was more complicated than that, but it wasn’t.”

The focus of the group is mutual community aid. MacDonald said, “We really want to focus it on community care and people being able to use it to help each other and find ways to get help or find ways to give help; spread the community care. It is not going to be a group for government announcements or medical advice; all of that exists. There are lots of ways to get that information. But what people don’t have an avenue for is how to connect with somebody that they might not know who needs something that they might be able to provide or vice versa—wanting to help but not knowing how to do it.”

Scoggins said, “We want to keep this as a community support network and try to make that clear. We have a bunch of volunteers who are monitoring the site and I don’t think we have had to exercise too much editorial control. I think people are being quite responsible.”

“The community has taken it over,” said MacDonald. “We’re doing very little at this point to feed the content. We do have community moderators with about five volunteers moderating, just for those few rules; making sure people are respectful, and making sure there isn’t sharing of misinformation, or using the group in a way it is not meant to be. We’ve had to do very little because it now kind of belongs to the community and that is kind of the point.”

Scoggins added, “We are told to do some social distancing, but actually we don’t want to do social distancing. We’ll do physical distancing but how do we use this situation, this pandemic, as an opportunity not distance ourselves socially but to come together socially. It may mean not face to face contact but it’s certainly using social media to bring people together and try to break down the isolation that exists and may have pre-existed this pandemic…we can reach through it or across it and help people build connections. That is really what is going to get us through this.”

As for measuring the impact of the group, MacDonald said, “When you scroll through the comments and see how people are helping each other—that is really validating to see the connection being made. That is something really tangible…it’s really nice to see.”