Digital Throws Haiti Lifeline

twitter/fred dupoux

Social media has become an invaluable tool for keeping the lines of communication open between people devastated by natural disasters and loved ones around the world waiting for word. It has never been more evident that the Internet and digital media can change social perception than in the recent week since the devastating 7.0 earthquake in Haiti, because it puts people emotionally and visually closer to the event.

In the wake of Tuesday's earthquake, people pulled together across numerous digital media to donate resources through text messages, Twitter posts, blogs and social networks, such as Facebook. Microsoft, Yahoo and Google donated resources, too.

Frederic Dupoux has become a lifeline for information from Haiti to the rest of the world through Twitter. With about 3,344 followers, he tweets "Diplomatic US citizen stuck under rubbles in Nadere apartments in juvena." Through tweets, he talks about aftershocks, and smelling chicken after not being able to find any food.

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Google posted before-and-after screenshots from satellites of the National Palace and an area of Port-au-Prince. While pictures speak loudly, videos on sites like Google's CitizenTube yell. Search engine marketers also made the most of the Web by compiling lists of donations, and alerts about malware attacks that could hinder relief efforts. And Haiti-related tweets streaming on Twitter from KnexU provide help to those trying to connect with missing family and friends.

Much of what people worldwide learn about life in Haiti following the devastating 7.0 earthquake has come from social media, according to The Nielsen Company.

Preliminary analysis shows that posts on Twitter lead as the source for a company or a person to discuss the aftermath. Online video, blogs and other discussion boards and forums follow. While most online consumers rely on traditional media for coverage of the quake, they are turning toward Twitter and blogs to share information, react to the situation and rally support.

The Red Cross Twitter account, which on average had been adding roughly 50-100 followers a day before the quake, has gained more than 10,000 followers since. Blog posts about Haiti's quake also make up nearly 3% of all blog posts at Nielsen's BlogPulse.com search engine. The Whitehouse.gov Twitter site tweeted that Americans raised more than $8 million for @RedCross by texting HAITI to 90999 to donate $10 to @RedCross relief.

Telecommunication carriers have stepped up efforts, too. Aside from people texting donations, T-Mobile USA Friday began to allow customers who were trying to connect with loved ones in Haiti to call the country at no charge for international long distance through January, retroactive to Jan. 12, the day of the 7.0 quake hit. Customers in Haiti can roam on T-Mobile's partner networks operated by Voila and Digicel free of charge through the end of the month.

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