The earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12 has again highlighted the increasing role of social media channels in major emergencies. Like the 2009 earthquake in China or the Southern California wildfires, information on Haiti is being disseminated through Twitter and Facebook, among other new media sources. In many ways these aren’t channels that replace traditional methods of communication. Rather think about them as channels that can be used to transmit information directly from those who are experiencing the catastrophe in real time, to those who can do things to help in real time, without editing or delay. In addition many traditional news organizations like The New York Times, CNN.com and National Public Radio also use Twitter to publicize their usual news stories and provide up-to-date information.
Lisa Qualls, LightThread’s chief development officer and current president of social media club, Kansas City, was recently interviewed by Action News on the topic.
These new channels have advantages and disadvantages. The information that is sent is fast and real-time. Because it is unfiltered it can also be misleading and incomplete. Balancing traditional and social information sources provides the best comprehensive approach whether one is mobilizing help, sending information to sources of aid, or simply keeping up to date on what is happening somewhere.
Besides communication social media is also being used to raise funds for disaster relief. Celebrities are using social media to publicize their giving efforts and Wyclef Jean’s use of Twitter through his Yele Foundation has been widely publicized. More traditional disaster relief organizations offering the ability to share their messages of giving through social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook and texting are also relatively new. Two examples of the latter include mGive and The Mobile Giving Foundation which are both communicating and facilitating contributions to the Red Cross for Haiti disaster relief.
Although convenient, these methods are sometimes not as quick as they seem, nor as easy. For example, the Salvation Army found that although they had received $50,000 for Haiti Relief from Canadian citizens by Thursday, two days after the disaster, three times the amount was originally sent to them through text messages, but only a third of those texting confirmed the donation with the required follow up texts; also, the process for depositing the money in Red Cross bank accounts can take up to 90 days.
A final concern associated with the newness and rapidity of social media effected contributions to disaster relief is its use by the unscrupulous to run disaster relief scams. The following tips have been offered by the FBI to assist consumers in detecting Haiti disaster relief scams: