The earthquake in Haiti is a terrible, timely reminder of the power of social networks.
The BBC is not only reporting about Haiti, but also about the work that social networking technologies are doing. Tonight they highlighted troylivesay who is tweeting from Haiti. And I’ve seen messages go past on facebook all day with information on how to donate by SMS and the WWW to relief efforts. I also heard from a colleague today who is on a mailing list that’s discussing how to most effectively get technological aid (most immediately repairing the mobile network). It is easy to see the power of social networks in emergency/disaster response (Leysia Palen’s work on this is a good read in the area).
But the BBC also reminded us to be critical. I don’t mean negative, just thoughtful. They showed a picture being circulated as earthquake damage in Haiti, but it was in fact damage from an earthquake in Japan. Perhaps that’s not terribly important in the end, but I think the point is well taken in understanding the power of social media.
It’s very rare that technologies are good or bad, usually they have mixed and far more interesting outcomes. Today, as we process information about Haiti, we can make donations, but are also asked to take reports and synthesize the information, and create a version that balances the best of what social media provides (real time, multi-faceted reports, perhaps in the face of an absence or a block on official reports) with the power of traditional media which is a guarantee of a certain set of reporting standards on which they rely for their own continued integrity and success (alongside their own political/social leanings of course).
If you want to donate (taken from social media) but checked by traditional media Fox News reports that these are valid sites.
Text “YELE” to 501501 to donate $5 to yele.org.
Text “HAITI” to 90999 to donate $10 to American Red Cross.
http://www.amazon.com are working with Mercy Corps
My thoughts go out to those who are involved and also to those who have family and friends in Haiti.
Update: another cautionary tale…