In the face of devastating news happening far away, there is comfort in making a connection. And those connections often are made online among strangers who are sharing video, photos, stories or tweets about the devastation around them. Such is the case in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a city that was devastated by an earthquake last Tuesday, with tens of thousands feared dead.
While Twitter has had a growing role as a first-responder medium with breaking news, that role has grown this week into a major booster for giving. When the Red Cross said people could donate $10 by texting the word “Haiti” to 90999, those instructions were passed along virally via Twitter, helping raise more than $5 million for relief efforts. The Yele Haiti Foundation also used text messaging to raise more than $1 million; you can donate $5 by texting the word “Yele” to 501501. A search on Google’s real-time feed from Twitter for “90999” brings up more than 48,000 results, meaning it’s been mentioned in that many tweets.
The spirit of giving became infectious online. The cell carriers said they wouldn’t be taking their customary cuts of those charges, nor would they charge users for sending the text messages. Even the credit card companies got into the act, waiving their fees for donations to Haiti. Plus, I noticed at one point today that the home pages of the major U.S. cable networks had removed their most lucrative ad slots and replaced them with Haiti relief pitches. (Commercial ads came back later tonight.)
The only downside to all this kindness was the confusion brought by so many free offers. According to AdAge, UPS offered “in-kind services to Haiti,” which somehow became interpreted to mean that people could send free packages to Haiti if they were less than $50 in cost. When American Airlines offered free miles for donations to the Red Cross, people misinterpreted that to mean free flights. “It was misinformation that got picked up, and we got information back out on Twitter saying that it wasn’t the case,” an American spokeswoman told AdAge.
With so many people missing in Haiti and communication systems down, social media has in some cases played the surprising role of life-saver. The CBC reported that a Montreal woman got a Facebook message from someone in Haiti saying that their neighbor was trapped in rubble next door. The Montreal woman contacted the Red Cross and the neighbor was eventually saved. These are the stories that give us hope, even when we’re thousands of miles removed from the disaster zone.
Here’s a list of online resources to follow the news, tweets, find missing people, see satellite imagery, and take action to help out in Haiti.
Special sites and pages
Wikipedia page on 2010 Haiti Earthquake
Miami Herald’s Disaster in Haiti
Ushahidi’s 2010 Earthquake in Haiti
Global Voices Online Haiti Earthquake
Huffington Post’s Haiti Earthquake
CNN’s Voices from Haiti reports on the ground
Twitter lists and searches
NY Times haiti-earthquake
LA Times haiti-quake
MSNBC’s BreakingNews haiti-quake
Google real-time search results for #haiti
Boston.com’s The Big Picture Haiti 48 hours later
Google Maps with satellite image overlay
Google Earth Library’s links to satellite images
BBC’s Haiti after the earthquake (from GeoEye)
International Federation of Red Cross and Crescent Society Flickr set (not Creative Commons; must get permission to use)
UN Development Program Flickr set (under Creative Commons)
Disasters Emergency Committee Flickr set (all rights reserved, mainly from Reuters)
NPR’s Photo Gallery
Hyberabad India’s Haiti Earthquake Image Gallery (optimized for iPod Touch and iPhones, as per Eric Rumsey in comments)
YouTube’s CitizenTube channel
YouTube videos geo-tagged in Haiti
iReport videos on Haiti earthquake
Google crisis response page with various ways to donate
Adam Sherk rounds up news sites’ help pages
Miami Herald’s Haiti Connect
Red Cross FamilyLinks for Haiti
NY Times’ The Missing in Haiti photo gallery
Person Finder – Haiti Earthquake (as per Erik from Ushahidi)
This list will be updated over the coming weeks, so please add in your favorite online resources in the comments below.
Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.