COVID-19 is all anyone can talk about in real life, which means it’s all anyone can talk about on the internet, which means it’s all anyone is discussing on Reddit. There’s r/Coronavirus (1.4 million members), r/Covid19 (101,000 members), and the racist-ly named r/China_flu (101,000 members, disappointingly). These subreddits have quickly been overflowed with people seeking news about how the pandemic has thrown world economies and health care systems into collapse. They exist to disseminate information — and of course, are victim to misinformation.
But there’s one much smaller, more intimate COVID-19 subreddit — Covid19_support, which boasts only 11,900 members — that is doing something different. The service it provides Reddit users is not one of news and information, but emotional support.
One post in the r/Covid19_support group asked if anyone else had trouble going grocery shopping for fear of being sick, with one user responding, “I’m not so worried I’ll get the virus, I think just seeing shelves empty or a ton of people buying it will stress me out.” Others replied with worries for workers who have been deemed “essential.” Many of the posts focus on a topic that concerns many people. What about our parents and grandparents? People are having to make the difficult decision to isolate from family during a period that you want to be with them more than ever. Luckily, on r/Covid19_support, members are not alone in this struggle.
Governments around the world have laid out varying instructions on how to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 which, for many people, has meant staying at home. But there’s been little direction on how to actually live through a pandemic. How does one reckon with quarantine life? What about those with mental health issues strained by isolation? How about the self-quarantining individuals who are navigating symptoms but are not in need of immediate hospitalization — who is speaking to them?
As people spend more time inside the house globally, those with the privilege of having access to a phone or a computer with a clear Wi-Fi signal can try to find support for the varied problems that inevitably come with staying put, avoiding illness, or simply attempting to navigate the financial hardship that has already hit many working class people. r/Covid19_support also offers a space for those who have been let down the most by our systems — those who may not be guaranteed sick leave and can’t work from home — to seek some sort of advice on how to handle the realities they face. One member with asthma (and elderly parents) posted about having to leave work early because co-workers were joking about “survival of the fittest” and they couldn’t take it anymore.
“I do think people need online forums more as the outbreak goes on, though,” moderator u/JenniferColeRhuk tells The Verge. “They want to ask questions that are very specific to them and to their situation, which aren’t going to be easily answered by FAQs 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 a free-for-all, r/Covid19_support has strict rules about who can post. It’s not that they want to censor the way people cope with the crisis, but moderators are attempting to make the community “troll-proof.” u/JenniferColeRhuk considers this paramount when “you’ve got people who are looking for reassurance and support” in creating a space for people to feel their emotions freely about a grim reality.
The subreddit requires only a little moderation for misinformation, since most users are sharing their personal stories, not news. Naturally, the moderators come down the hardest on things that are emotional. u/JenniferColeRhuk explains there is zero tolerance for redditors who don’t show other users support, especially if they’re provoking others. People can get banned for telling someone to “get a grip.”
r/Covid19_support originated out of a post in r/Coronavirus by u/thatreddittherapist inquiring what everyone was doing for their mental health. That idea got picked up by u/JenniferColeRhuk, so the two of them created r/Covid19_support. “[The] main difference from the other COVID-19 subs is that it’s mainly self-posts from people who are struggling with various aspects of the outbreak — worried about their friends and family, or their own health, or what will happen to their jobs,” u/JenniferColeRhuk says.
Those realities are existential. Members of the subreddit, like the rest of the world, brace for the “new normal” as we look onward at a pandemic that has yet to be contained, an economy collapsing, and a global workforce no longer able to work. Internet access has become an indisputable necessity as many people socially distance in their homes or nervously await news of what is to come as they journey to their jobs, risking illness to be able to pay their rent. Subreddits such as r/Covid19_support will continue to be more important as this pandemic tolls on.
As the world awaits what is to come, there is some solace to be found in anonymous strangers on the internet sharing that they too miss their parents, that they also can’t handle the boredom with their ADHD, and that they as well have struggled with layoffs due to the virus. There is an understanding hand of humanity reaching out in a latex glove to give you a pat on the back.
Having been in my own house for eight days, I’ve often visited r/Covid19_support to find some sort of relief for the various stresses that this has brought on. I scroll the subreddit as I stress about whether there will actually be a rent freeze, as I wait for phone calls from home about my family members getting sick because they’re in jobs deemed “essential,” as the boredom only heightens all of my anxieties.
Until the pandemic is over, whenever that is, r/Covid19_support may be one of the many ways that people are trying to cope with the crisis, together and alone in our bedrooms.