On April 30, Ali Hatem returned home, missing for five days after disappearing on his way to the hospital in Omdurman, Sudan.
On May 3, the admin of the Facebook page Sudanese Blogs announced that their father, who had been missing for days, also returned, thanking everyone who shared social media posts about him.
On May 11, Adel Saleh, who had not been seen for weeks, was reunited with his family.
All these cases were shared across multiple pages on Facebook and Twitter, using numerous hashtags like #Missing.
Esabella Pop is one of many who are trying to amplify the messages about missing persons in Omdurman. Esabella converted her Facebook group, originally focused on promoting manual work, to sharing messages related to locals in need.
Such social media groups have grown in numbers amid the month-long civil war that is tearing Sudan apart.
Esabella’s Facebook group is now finding missing persons, providing food to those in need, and facilitating those requiring medical care. The group, which has around 12,000 members, is spreading posts related to relief work in the region, with a WhatsApp group featuring the most active volunteers.
The greatest tool at the disposal of these activists in their quest to save lives in Sudan: Social media hashtags.
“Hashtags help bolster and unite our efforts by spreading important information, such as which hospitals are now under service and where are the nearest pharmacies where medicines are available and if there is a missing person,” Esabella told the Daily Dot. “We publish information about missing people and their pictures, in case someone recognizes them, using relevant hashtags.”
An Arabic hashtag that Esabella’s social media team frequently uses translates into “share so we can help each other.” Other hashtags such as #Needed_Khartoum and #Stop_The_War_In_Sudan have been used nationwide to share critical information since the conflict erupted on April 15.
The hashtags allow users on popular social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to post calls for help with users browsing specific hashtags to find missing persons or provide supplies in specific areas.
Sudan’s Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary group Rapid Support Forces (RSF) are battling for control of the country. On May 4, the Abdel Fattah al-Burhan-led SAF and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo’s RSF agreed to a ceasefire to carry out negotiations for a possible arrangement to share power the two collectively usurped in a 2021 military coup.
Despite the ceasefire, violence continues, with 400 killed, thousands injured, and at least 250 missing.
One of the neighborhoods severely hit while fighting continues in the capital Khartoum is Safa Mohammed’s.
A data entry employee, the civil war separated Safa from family members. She and her father are stuck in one town, while Safa’s mother and siblings are in another.
“I have to call them a couple of times a day to make sure that they’re alright and safe. We had to leave home because water and electricity were cut since day two of the war,” Safa told the Daily Dot. “RSF soldiers are everywhere, it’s not safe, there are no open grocery stores around. The RSF soldiers have been robbing the stores and setting some of it on fire. We ran out of food eventually.”
Safa has been using social media to keep tabs on the well-being of her mother and siblings, check in with her neighbors back home , and track what’s going on in her area.
For many families like Safa’s, social media is their only genuine source of information to keep up with what’s happening in the country.
“I don’t trust the news channels on TV. Social media also helps get information about open pharmacies and grocery stores in the neighborhood. People also use social media to ask for buses to travel to the nearest borders. You can ask online using hashtags,” she says.
It appears to be working.
On May 3, @AmgradArabi, with a mere 249 followers, tweeted a request for insulin using the hashtag #Needed_Medicine. It was retweeted over 250 times and the post reached over 55,000 people.
Meanwhile, Instagram user @Mazin_B has raised over $60,000 to provide relief in Sudan by amplifying a Go Fund Me link on social media.
The ongoing war has pushed many locals into activism and welfare work online, as already organized groups are rallying people in high numbers.
Among these are neighborhood resistance committees that have propped up nationwide as Sudan witnessed a string of political upheavals over the past decade.
Mahmoud Kamal, an organizer with the Nasser Extension Resistance Committee, says the committee has been working since the fighting erupted to provide basic necessities to residents of the area.
“We have a mobile emergency room due to the security conditions in the region and to ensure the safety of our injured and patients. There is a medical staff in it. We go to the patient at home if he cannot go to the doctor,” he tells the Daily Dot.
The Nasser Extension Resistance Committee, like other such groups, is using social media to ensure supplies stay flowing amid power outages, including safe drinking water. It is also issuing warnings to citizens on how to protect themselves.
“Posts instructing locals to take cover during an armed clash, monitor the possibility of the deployment of forces, and avoid the streets in which they are stationed, are promoted on the internet with the help of hashtags,” Mahmoud says.
Facebook remains the most popular social media platform in Sudan, with active users in the country jumping from 62% in March to 74% in April. Twitter is the second most popular with 15%. Both these sites, and their facilitation of hashtags, have been critical in promoting critical messages during the ongoing civil war in Sudan.
With the toll of the wounded rising, medical workers are also stressed.
The war has significantly aggravated the challenges of a country already on the brink of healthcare collapse. Volunteers have tried to bridge the prodigious gaps in critical medical aid. And like others, they too are relying on social media to help save lives.
Rania Faisal, a volunteer with the Ruhamaa Medical Committee, helping the treatment of children with cancer and kidney failure, has been actively tweeting out requests using hashtags such as #Needed_Medicine and #Save_The_Lives_Of_Our_Children_In_Sudan. Rania, like other medical committee volunteers, uses social media to address the shortage of medical supplies in many areas.
“I have a case of a sick child with cancer. I posted a tweet asking for help to transfer him to Wad Madani Hospital due to the closure of the hospital in Khartoum due to clashes near the hospital. The child is in a dangerous area that is difficult to reach,” she told the Daily Dot.
Efforts such as these, though, are hindered by the continued internet shortages across Sudan.
“We are helping many families and their children survive through the communication that takes place on the internet,” says Rania. “Social media has a very big role in saving lives. We remain in constant fear that the internet connection will be cut off.”