Photo by writer
Photo by writer

KARACHI: Whenever there is a problem, any disturbance or crisis in the city, the citizens have come to rely on other citizens for instant reliable news, which they receive through Facebook groups or WhatsApp broadcast lists.

These groups and lists are being run by some very responsible and dependable persons who have their finger on the pulse of the city. And their importance became clearer during the recent urban flooding that also led to so many other issues such as traffic jams, power failures, accidents, shortage of supplies, scarcity of food items and medicines in the rain-hit areas.

One Facebook group that everyone in the Defence Housing Authority and Clifton areas was using to voice their issues or opinions or to alert others during the rains was ‘Voice of DHA’, or VOD. Not far behind were the ‘Offroad club Pakistan’, ‘Karachi One2One Concierge’ and ‘One2One Admin’.

A particular example of a post on the VOD Facebook group would be someone informing others about electricity returning to her area after 70 or so hours or too much water on a particular road, a badly damaged road and better possible alternative routes. Meanwhile, some might share about a recent burglary or seeing suspicious persons to warn others.

A post or call for help in the Offroad club Pakistan group on Facebook saved lives over the past few days as the men in 4x4 jeeps, or Sport Utility Vehicles, rescued people, helped deliver groceries as well as medicines in the flooded areas.

Similarly, in the Karachi One2One Concierge group one found posts such as asking if anyone could help someone find a night attendant for someone who was sick. One2One Admin is also a community focussed on helping each other in daily life.

There are other groups on Facebook such as ‘Halaat Updates’ and ‘Weather Updates Karachi’.

Halaat Updates adds you after a bit of scrutiny and after you agree to a few community conditions. The group mostly keeps one updated on what is happening on the political side, and who in the government or city administration will do what about what.

Weather Updates Karachi, as the name suggests, is to keep one informed about the weather when the Meteorological office fails you. The admins of the group use satellite images to support the information they share. And they are rarely wrong.

Aside from these groups, which anyone can join and see as the aim is to extend help to all by reading and learning from each other’s experience, there are also the WhatsApp broadcast lists. Many use this option in WhatsApp to become an annoyance when they send you a greeting every day or a regular piece of advice or quotation. But there are also some who have used it to spread the word.

A WhatsApp broadcast list is one that is different from a WhatsApp group where everyone can chat or react if the admins have allowed it. A WhatsApp broadcast list has no chat option with others, though you may talk to the owner of the list. It is also quite private as no one, other than the list owner, knows who else is on the list.

One such very useful WhatsApp broadcast list is the Karachi Alerts, which shares news about things happening around you, which you should know about. If you want to know if the Muharram or Eid moon has been sighted, you may check on Karachi Alerts. If you are confused about the summer vacations extending or not, you can see what Karachi Alerts has to say. In times of crisis and emergency, too, Karachi Alerts has been alerting folks about the latest.

The gentleman behind this extremely valuable and reliable list is Corporate Crisis and Security Manager Norbert Almeida. Many on social media receive news from his broadcast list to then share on social media in the form of posts or tweets. “My work helps me know things first-hand,” Almeida told Dawn.

No bit of information is shared blindly. “Since I have cops, journalists including beat reporters on my list also, I verify the information before sharing it,” he said.

Asked if he has issues with people tweeting info they received through him, Almeida said that he has no such issues. “It is fun to see them tweeting the info,” he said. But his WhatsApp broadcast list also grew into a Twitter account by the same name and a very useful blog with helpful tips on security.

There are so many people on Almeida’s WhatsApp list and they are all dependent on his alerts. In fact they feel quite handicapped if he doesn’t share anything for long. “Lots of people on the list complain if I am busy or travelling and not sharing info. Basically, people on the list stopped watching the news or going online to verify what they got from me. Since it was all free and 99 per cent accurate and well before widely known to others, they got hooked on it,” he said.

Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2022

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