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Before the dust had even settled on the disaster-stricken Caribbean country of Haiti there was already a flow of posts, blogs and websites starting to discuss and share moments of the disaster. But for this event the internet and social media hasn't just been used to gossip or simply pass comment. We have seen a humane, interactive angle to the online activity relating to Haiti.
The web and its various outlets are generating vast amounts in charitable donations for the Haiti aid effort but how else are they helping Haiti?
By merely scraping the surface of the web you can see straight away that it is not only charities' pleas for donations utilising the webs mass exposure.
Google have shown their CSR stripes and placed an information and aid link on what is possibly one of the highest traffic pages on the internet - the Google homepage.
Users have taken it upon themselves to create an awareness of the disaster by educating other users in why this has been such a devastating earthquake. YouTube videos such as this one are giving viewers a real sense of why the Haiti survivors need our funds more than most.
Sites like CNN have created specific sub-sites for reporting and collecting information on missing people by allowing worried families to search through a missing people database and encouraging Haiti survivors to search through the hundreds of pictures in case they have information.
Wikipedia's disaster page gives mention to the online efforts stating "Members of social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook spread messages and pleas to send help. Facebook was overwhelmed from some Haitians and blocked some users who were sending messages about updates. The OpenStreetMap community responded by greatly improving the level of mapping available for the area, tracking website Ushahidi coordinated messages from multiple sites to assist Haitians still trapped or to get word to family members of survivors. Some online poker sites hosted poker tournaments with tournament fees and/or prizes going to disaster relief charities."
Social Media Impact
Facebook's photo sharing abilities have been utilised by the 283,874 members who have joined the Haiti Earthquake group so far, with 5982 photos of missing loved ones uploaded to help find those people still missing and share information about aid drops with survivors.
Twitter has come into its own as an interactive, up-to-the-minute missing person's report site where users from all around the world are posting messages (see below) asking for information on colleagues and family as well as telling people about certain areas or certain people that have been located.
"RT @lietuva36: Just wanted everyone to know that i located my aunt. She said 31 Delma was damaged slightly. Most everyone there is ok."
"MSH has 3 projects working on health in #Haiti - haven't been able to account for all our employees. DM if you can help or email@example.com"
Yet with this great power comes great responsibility. Some users in the aftermath of the disaster are using social media sites to spread false information and rumours. One such rumour was that UPS (the parcel distribution company) would be willing to ship any package under 50lbs to Haiti for free (UPS debunked the myth). With the vast numbers of posts being made hourly, the Twitter network has found itself struggling to keep live. Due to the life-saving context of some of these posts it is very important Twitter fixes issues and remains live throughout the earthquake aftermath, aid and clear up.
Sadly the thousands of text donations, driven mostly by social media, will in fact take up to 90 days to process which could be too late for many of the seriously injured survivors. The FBI warns users to beware of a flurry of low-life scam artists using the Haiti disaster to gain "donations" from unsuspecting users.
The internet brings a interactivity to a mass-connected audience which has become a vital "first warning and rallying cry for mobilization" during disasters such as the Haiti earthquake.
The internet can never cure a disaster's suffering alone and it takes many different types of media, tools and people on the ground to save lives and make a true impact on the lives torn apart.
If, like me, you have read this and other Haiti articles and been moved to do something about those suffering, then here is a link to the Red Cross Site where you can donate.