This week, the Population Foundation of India (PFI) brought together government officials and civil society organizations to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on young people in India. Quilt.AI along with Dasra and Development Solutions shared findings from their studies on how COVID-19 has affected young people’s health, education, and employment among other issues.
Quilt.AI’s Co-Founder and Chief of Product, Dr.Angad Chowdhry presented their study on how young people were engaging online during COVID-19 especially regarding issues of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and girls’ skilling and employment. Below are Quilt.AI’s findings as a public good report. These findings can be used by policymakers and civil society organizations to inform the development of more comprehensive policies and interventions for young people in India.
IMPACT OF COVID-19 AND TRENDS ONLINE
The impact of COVID-19 has rippled across the world, confining young people to their homes, closing school and driving up unemployment.
In India, COVID-19 will catalyse the digital revolution as the base of Internet users is expected to increase from 574 million to 639 million by the end of 2020.
During this time, Quilt.AI set out to understand how COVID-19 has impacted digital engagement across issues of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and girls’ skilling and employment, and air quality.
Quilt.AI scanned for all searches, conversations, and uploads in order to understand what has shifted pre- and during COVID. Where relevant, Quilt.AI analyzed changes since lockdown in March 2020.
For this study, Quilt.AI examined 10.3 million Search and News data over a 1-year period. Data extraction was done at the city, district and village level across the 4 given states: Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh.
All social platforms were scanned and relevant data points were analysed across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, ShareChat, and Helo.
IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON YOUTH
COVID-19 lockdown measures have complicated access across cities and districts — especially access to menstrual hygiene products, safe abortions, and contraception.
- Access issues post lockdown are manifested in search spikes for sanitary pads, tampons, and period pain relief
a. Searches for pads increased 32% while tampons increased 168% overall
b. Some interest in tampon subscription boxes, growing in cities in Maharashtra / Rajasthan
c. Search demand for period pain relief driven by cities in UP, Rajasthan, and Jharkhand
d. Push by NGOs and brands (e.g. Everteen) to distribute sanitary products offline and to raise awareness of access barriers online
- Demand for at-home abortion methods has surged since last quarter
a. Search interest is more pronounced in cities (+48% increase) than districts (+14%)
b. Abortion pills are the most commonly searched method of home abortion even post COVID
c. Informal advice on carrying out home abortions circulates online
- Condom interest has dipped by 17% overall since lockdown
a. Withdrawal method has gained popularity in cities (+20% since last quarter), though search volume is much lower than that of condom purchase
b. News points to restricted movement and living with parents as barriers to purchase
- Demand for birth control has slowed since January 2020
a. Barrier methods were growing in popularity across cities and districts prior to COVID-19
- Searches around unwanted pregnancies has increased
a. Searches around signs of pregnancy tend to observe seasonal peaks
b. Demand for emergency contraceptives peaked in Feb 2020, but dipped sharply after
- Uptick in searches for violent porn in towns/districts from Feb 2020; but gradual decline in cities. For more details, please tune into Quilt.AI’s webinar, Keeping Children Safe Online, and enter the password 1ML3%v=w when prompted.
Girls’ Skilling and Employment
Priorities and anxieties among the government and parents have shifted since COVID-19.
- Impact of COVID-19 lockdown measures has overshadowed many long-standing issues, i.e. girls’ access to education, women’s access to employment opportunities
a. School closures have impacted both genders — push for girls’ enrollment is not the priority
b. Students are feeling the impact — some anger expressed over schools charging fees for holding online classes, and confusion over changes to exam schedules
c. Commemoration of Savitribai Phule got people talking about the importance of girls’ education
- Rising unemployment is the main concern — across both men and women
a. Men are searching for remote work, while women are prioritizing home care over job seeking. Job searches among women have dropped by 29% in cities and 42% in districts.
b. Social commentary on youth unemployment circulates on social media
- Small businesses have been impacted, and female business owners are facing loan repayment issues
a. Interest in funding a business fell sharply by 41% in cities. Low interest at the district level.
b. Regional news reveals loan repayment issues among female business owners, while global news sites spotlight female entrepreneurs who have supported the production of cloth masks
- Interest in upskilling has dropped across cities and districts
a. Interest in vocational courses stems mainly from cities. Districts show interest in sewing courses.
b. Some push from local education centers to encourage enrollment in vocational courses
- Searches relating to domestic abuse has spiked across cities and districts
a. Help-seeking searches were driven by Mumbai, Jaipur, and Lucknow
b. Online activism links the opening of liquor stores with the rise in abuse cases
YOUTH ENGAGEMENT ON SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS DURING COVID-19
- COVID updates and news are frequently shared on Facebook. Netizens also engage with broader political issues such as the China-India aggression, India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir and more that are ongoing.
- While the pandemic is still ongoing, many have expressed concern for or encouraged others in their community — to stay safe and practice social responsibility by staying home.
- During COVID, there has been a surge in posts reflecting how family life has changed in lockdown — from quality time spent with families to digital learning for kids at home. There is also a lot of content on how people are staying active during the lockdown
- Some also share their plans going forward post-lockdown such as learning new skills like cooking/ baking, and applying the life lessons learnt from this pandemic.
- Twitter tends to be a more political space compared to other platforms. Recent hot topics have revolved around political and controversial issues, such as: #ByeByeIndiaOnlyBharat, #BanTikTok, #Tuesdaythoughts, #tuesdayvibes
- YouTube became a huge source of entertainment for youths. From live streaming game videos to COVID-related news, comedic/parodies, and channels offering Stay-Home related content
- The recent social media war also received significant attention when netizens took to social media sites including YouTube to post videos and memes trolling Tik Tok users in the country, with many roasting them for the often ‘cringy content’ they posted.
- ShareChat is mainly used for news, lifestyle, inspiration, entertainment, and informal humor.
- COVID-19 updates remains among the most popular topics (161K posts). The focus is on safety and local updates.
- Religious wisdom is shared daily, as a way to demonstrate faith and encourage others: “good morning. happy Tuesday. Jay Shri RAM Jai Shree Hanuman. May the blessings of Lord Ram and Hanuman remain on you.”
- Helo, similar to ShareChat, is a vernacular app aimed at regional / small town users. Content is kept light-hearted and fun: food and personal lifestyle, celebrity fandom, entertainment, cricket, and meme-style content.
- Celebrity gossip and Bollywood content is some of the most popular content on Helo. During COVID, this has been a way for celebrities to entertain and interact with fans directly during lockdown (e.g. live sessions with Radio Mirchi on #HeloLivePeMilo).
- Jokes about marriage / relationships and funny videos are shared between teens. These are bite-sized pieces of content that occasionally make reference to the wider social-political landscape.
Quilt.AI’s online insights are evidence that people are turning to the Internet for information and entertainment -more so during the pandemic — and emphasizes the need to reach people online. This is especially relevant for a younger audience, which is more likely to not only be online but also use it as a space to explore, assert their identities and engage on issues they are interested in.
Our findings demonstrate the need to redirect adolescents to accurate information and understand how offline events are being reflected online. However, in order for government and civil society to build appropriate and effective interventions, it is critical to know the nuances, logic and genre of digital channels that young people are engaged in.
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