One of the biggest coronavirus Facebook groups is giving grieving families a place to mourn

'Shine a light to fight coronavirus' has almost 400,000 members. Credit: Lisa Bailey
  • By ITV News Trainee Fred Dimbleby

Lisa Bailey is a 28-year-old customer service advisor for a medical reporting agency, called Pegasus medical.

She has worked there since June last year and lives in a town called Cannock, based in Staffordshire.

She is also the founder of a Facebook group, ‘Shine a light to fight coronavirus!’, that has almost 400,000 members and is now one of the biggest coronavirus groups in the world.

It is a place where people share happy news about new-born babies, stories of medics going to fight on the frontline, and also funny anecdotes or tips and tricks to avoid boredom in isolation.

Lisa Bailey started the group and gained 200,000 members within days Credit: Lisa Bailey

But many of the posts are dedicated to those who have the virus, or to the grieving families who have lost loved ones.

Where once people turned to the death notice columns in newspapers, many now post on the group about those who are no longer with them because of COVID-19.

Lisa says she started the group to give people a place to mourn.

When she set it up in late March, the numbers of deaths in the UK were in the hundreds but even then she knew she “wanted to do something to make a change.”

She tells me the group “gives those who have lost loved ones a place to put a photo and share that with people they might just want just want a bit of support from, or a bit of love from because they might not be able to grieve for that person.”

One of those who turned to the group after they had lost someone was Toni Jacobs.

Her dad Terry died from the virus, but his family were not able to visit him in the hospital because of strict restrictions.

Terry Jacobs died from the virus at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Essex Credit: Toni Jacobs

Toni says that she stumbled across the page with her sister after her dad had passed away.

“At first, we wanted to tell the world if our dad - a healthy, active, loved 70-year-old man - could be taken by this horrible disease, then anyone could.

“Our dad was taken in the beginning of this pandemic and if we could help others realise the seriousness of the situation by going public with our story then so be it.”

Toni posted this picture on the group after her dad died from the virus Credit: Toni Jacobs

She posted about her dad on the group – a picture of his funeral.

You can see his coffin and some of his grieving friends and family spaced out on the pews to follow social distancing rules. The post now has over 9000 reactions and over 1500 comments.

Toni says: “We found that we were getting messages, some of comfort, but a lot of people in the same situation as we found ourselves in.

“We have reached out to people who need some guidance the same way as others have held out their hand for us.”

When I tell Lisa about how the group has helped those who have lost, she says: “it makes me speechless, it’s something that I have always wanted to do.

“I wanted to make that difference but for it to actually happen, it just makes it absolutely spectacular and it makes all the work worth it."

Lisa says her phone is Credit: Lisa Bailey

But managing a group of over 390,000 members is a full-time job.

“My phone is constantly going off”, Lisa says.

“I finish my day job and I am straight onto the computer going onto the group, making sure that I am catching up with what’s happened throughout the day.”

A small group of under ten moderators and admins run the page, half based in the UK and half in the USA so that they can manage content throughout night and day.

One of the biggest challenges they face is scrolling through the mass of posts they receive every day, and carefully curating which are approved and make it onto the page.

On Tom Moore’s birthday alone, for example, there were at least 10,000 posts submitted wishing him a happy 100th.

By curating the page, they are also able to stop the fake news that sometimes goes hand in hand with large groups online.

Lisa says that, out of 10,000 posts submitted in an average day, 2000 will be fake news or irrelevant links.

Lisa says that one of the most common fake news topics on the group concerns 5g conspiracies

One of the most common fake news posts are those about 5g conspiracies. Lisa says her team had to remove 500-1000 posts and comments sharing misinformation about the dangers of 5g networks and their relation to the virus.

“When that started coming out onto the news, there were a lot of the posts that we were having to very closely monitor.

“So, we ended having to set up a keyword checker that brings up what people speak about and then we can kind of delete it in the background.”

When Lisa gained her 500th member she said she celebrated. That was only a month ago, but she now holds the keys to a group where posts reach thousands.

A group with a following that would make many upcoming social media influencers jealous.

Lisa is still working out the future direction of the page.

She says she wants to involve more charities – the group has already raised over £1000 for mental health charity Mind – but also to start a yearly memorial day to commemorate those who have lost their loved ones because of the virus.

‘Shine a light to fight coronavirus!’ shows that Facebook groups and online communities do not have to be suspicious and dark corners, where misinformation and trolling dominate.

But achieving that safety takes time and work.

Families like Toni Jacobs’ found a place to mourn and to share on Lisa’s group. It was a safe place to warn about the true impacts of the virus and to pay tribute to her father.

As Lisa says: “At a time like this, we all need to be together and to support each other and that is the most important part of the group.”