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The Athens GA COVID-19 Resources and Discussion page is displayed on a laptop in Athens, Georgia on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (Photo/Taylor Gerlach; taylormckenziephotography.com)

UGA alumna Sarah Mayo and current doctoral student Mikaela Warner have both been moderating the Facebook group, “Athens GA COVID-19 Resources and Discussion” of almost 5,000 members since the beginning of the pandemic to help answer questions and provide resources to the Athens community.

The Red & Black spoke with these moderators to learn more about what they do and how they help the Athens community through their group.

This article has been edited for length and clarity.

The Red & Black: Can you tell me a little bit more about the group itself and when it started?

Warner: Originally, the group was actually made out of a mutual aid movement in Athens. The Facebook group was posed as a way to kind of connect the Athens community with all of these different efforts going on so that we can do things like pay people's rent or get people food. At the time, when it really started, it was a place where people could also share where to get hand sanitizers, masks and what were good grocery delivery services. When we opened [the group] up, there were thousands of people joining. We quickly realized we had to kind of put some structure in place. In the early days, we had to ban misinformation and conspiracy theorists. However, it is significantly less labor-intensive than in the early days.

Mayo: I think as the group grew ... it kind of settled into what it is now, where it seems like most of the members have an understanding of how the group kind of works, what sort of content we encourage, which is typically resource sharing, people share articles whenever there's new information. One of the rules that we instituted was asking people to provide their sources wherever possible. ... I would say it's almost best described as like a community forum because it's really based on member posting.

The Red & Black: There are a good bit of conversations and member participation amongst senior citizens in this group. How do you help them navigate through this pandemic and even the technology used for this group?

Mayo: So actually, I would say what's been happening recently is that we have a lot of people whose parents are seniors and who are trying to get them access to vaccines. So I think one of the most important purposes that the group has been serving lately is for people to talk about where they're getting vaccines for their parents, how they need to follow up and make sure that they're getting the second dose.

The Red & Black: What is the type of feedback you've gotten with these 5,000 people?

Mayo: It's mostly been good feedback. People who vocally appreciate that the group exists in the first place, that there is a place that they can go and ask a question and have a very good chance of getting actual responses. We have group members who work in the medical field, and they have been great resources for other people to get information. So I think people appreciate that they appreciate the kinds of information that they can find and that we try as much as we can to make certain kinds of information like testing info accessible. We are trying to keep posting about vaccinations within a particular topic tag so that if people want to know about it, they can just click vaccinations and go there.

The Red & Black: Do y’all have anything you're looking forward to in the future for this group?

Mayo: I think because things in the pandemic are always, ‘You never exactly know what's about to happen, or where things are going,’ I think it's difficult to predict exactly what the group is going to turn into in the future or how long it's going to feel like it's a necessary resource.

Warner: I feel like as moderators, we're trying to hold the line until the pandemic is resolved. There isn't necessarily this desire for expansion or promotion in other ways or changing direction. I've decided personally, as long as the pandemic is still going, I can put in the five minutes per day just checking and because some people are getting a lot of value still out of this group.

The Red & Black: What else would you like for the readers of this article to know?

Mayo: We do a small business Sunday, where people who own small businesses in Athens can promote their businesses and post about what kinds of COVID precautions they have at their business.

Warner: While the internet can be a horrible, horrible place, it is possible to cultivate a positive community. I think we've all seen that as moderators, but also the generosity that we've seen from people in that group. When we kind of hold ourselves to a standard of being generous with people, instead of assuming that they're horrible people, we find that we can build some community together, even when we're so far apart from each other. I think if we continue to open our minds to … these positive spaces ... the internet can be a better place for all of us.

Mayo: It's been consistently inspiring to see how much people are helping each other even if you know, it's just a comment on a post. It's just great to know that there are people who are willing to give time and energy out of their days, just to help someone else out in a way that they can over the internet.

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