Viewing Haiti Through Social Media

Note: The below is cross-posted from my business blog at AriWriter.

This is not a blog post about why it is important to donate money and knowledge to help the hundreds of thousands of dead Haitians, nor is this about what's happening on the ground every second of every day. No. This is a blog post about Haiti and social media, a look at how the internet is changing human perception from up close and far away; and how we're quickly realizing in a way 9/11 never showed us, that we're very very close to each other and we have the technology to prove it.

The country

At 27,750 square kilometers, Haiti is a small country, roughly the size of the U.S. state of Maryland. It has a population of 9 million, with a nearly 60 percent infant mortality rate, not to mention 2 percent living with AIDS. Adjusted to the hurricane-prone tropical climate and bordered by the Dominican Republic on the east and the Caribbean Sea to the west, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Over 80 percent of the people live under the poverty level. Most of the population live in urban areas -- where there is potable water; less than 1,000 square kilometers of the land is irrigated. You can read more facts via the CIA.

And that's just the beginning.

Do you have a better sense, now, why the 7.0-magnitude earthquake of January 12 is so devastating?

The earthquake and its aftermath

Pictures speak 1,000 words. Videos speak more.

The meat: Haiti and social media

The CBS video referenced Frederic Dupoux, a Haitian Twitter user. Mainstream media recognize the importance of social media. So, let's focus on Twitter first. Rewinding time, here are his first two tweets when the earthquake struck:

Minutes later, he comprehended what happened and began using the #haiti hashtag, which continues to be be tweeted by people around the world every few seconds.

In time, people created lists, such as Jillian C. York's manual find of 78 people and organizations tweeting the Haitian facts from the ground and from those in the know. Stories are shared and people are reaching out to each other. Humanity shows its beating heart. A snippet:

Facebook is no less active than Twitter. Unfortunately, people try to game the system with dishonest actions, such as one group with the promise of donating $1 for everyone who joins. Despite over 576,000 people joining, the group is a fake. Other groups are real, such as this informational resource, with over 170,000 members, allegedly created by the Developpement et Paix, where people share their thoughts:

Better than the random Facebook groups are the organizations that had pre-existing Facebook pages, and there has been an outpouring both of people asking questions and clicking to photos and videos. For instance, the American Red Cross chapter of Miami, Florida may have 1,400 fans but people are posting questions to their wall about where to donate food and clothing and receiving quick responses that only monetary donations are accepted now. Moments ago, Red Cross photographer Matt Mareck shared some pictures that say more than I can write here, such as:

Need I go on? More forums are happening on MySpace, Vimeo, and other online networks. When terrorists forced the crashing of airplanes in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania in 2001, we had blogs and assorted internet tools at our disposal but the real-time web as it exists today was a pipe dream. If you deny the benefit of social media for information gathering and social networking, I'm curious why.

Your next action is a choice

You can do nothing or you can donate. It's as simple as that. I wrote about the economic indicators of Haiti. The people are poor, the land is malnourished, and the earthquake caused both to be much worse. So, either you can twiddle your thumbs and watch the world go by or you can donate the cost of your next Starbucks coffee and send $5 to someone that needs it far more than you. You can also share the love. Jillian York and Amy Mengel have done their part and shared donation resources. InterAction developed a massive list of over 60 organizations seeking your help. Time Magazine explained how cellphones boost cause marketing to donate with a click of a few buttons.

The truth is not going anywhere. What are you going to do about it? What have you done?