When an earthquake struck Haiti earlier this week, people around the world read about the tragedy almost instantly. For many, news of the quake came not from traditional media outlets but from their profile pages on Facebook, or through a tweet from a friend on Twitter.
With phone lines down in most of the country, only those with access to satellite forms of communication, such as Internet-enabled mobile phones, could communicate with the outside world.
Within hours of the earthquake, images, videos and status updates flooded the Web with news about the disaster. People experiencing the quake in Haiti were able to share what was happening with the rest of the world using social media tools, long before volunteers and reporters could make their way to the country. CNN published many of these updates to its iReport section, and that part of its site saw nearly 1.5 million visitors the day of the quake.
For some victims, social media has proved to be a lifesaver. The Miami Herald reported that many users from outside the country were able to post where they thought loved ones might be trapped, asking for help from anyone who might be in the area. For those trying to locate loved ones, Facebook and Twitter have helped the news spread more quickly than watching TV or reading the newspaper.
Even the rescue teams in Haiti are now heavily reliant on social media tools to communicate with each other. Groups from Canada and the U.S. are using tools such as Skype and Twitter to give each other vital information because phone lines are not working.
Long have social media users been accused of "slacktivism," a term Pete Cashmore of Mashable says refers to the endless posting of messages and online groups that don't achieve much, but allow social media users to feel like they are doing their part. But with the Haiti earthquake, organizations employed a relatively new method of gaining support: asking users to send text message donations that would automatically add a few dollars onto their next phone bill. It has been hugely successful, with the red cross having raised more than $8 million so far.
But even with all the good that social media tools have enabled people to do, not all efforts are safe. Rumors circled on Twitter and other social media sites that JetBlue and American were going to fly volunteers to Haiti for free. This turned out to be untrue. At this time, no airlines are able to fly passengers into Haiti due to congestion and lack of fuel at the airport. Though some airlines are offering frequent flier rewards for members who give monetary donations to the relief effort.
Learn more about Haiti in our blog post from yesterday.
Read how you can help quake relief efforts in this findingDulcinea article.Haley Lovett