In previous posts, I’ve discussed some of the positive ways which the social media have been used to help people in need. None, however, may be as useful as what transpired after the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake in Haiti.
Although estimates of the death toll vary to this day, more than 300,000 perished in this disaster, according to the Haitian government early in 2011.
In the days and weeks after that country’s devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake, many people used social network sites like Facebook and Twitter to get information about the damage, try to connect with family and friends caught in the tragedy, and find the most effective charities to send money to.
Andrew Noyes, manager of public policy communications at Facebook, told PCWorld Magazine the rush to social media was immediate.
Instant FB response
“Moments after the earthquake hit, we started seeing a response on Facebook. It was very organic. People were posting status messages about Haiti at about 1,500 per minute.”
Noyes added, “The big picture here is that Facebook and other social networking sites are offering a lifeline to Haiti that the Internet has never seen before. This is the first disaster of this magnitude where the Internet has played this big of a role.”
One Facebook page in particular, was created the day of the quake by a family to find a missing relative, believed lost in the collapse of Haiti’s five-star hotel, Hotel Montana. Today the page has more than 16,000 followers, many of whom have been using it for the same purpose and others using it to show support and find out how to help.
The page states its reason for existence: “Keeping the people of Haiti, and those who lost loved ones, in our thoughts and prayers.”
A gallery of grief
In addition to the page-after-page-after-page of posts, the site contains nearly 4,000 photos, most of them of family and loved ones lost in the earthquake and the hotel’s resulting collapse.
The site also hosts 57 different topical discussion groups, ranging from “How You Can Help Haiti Now,” to “Grief,” to many discussion pages for individual families who lost loved ones in the disaster.
Hotel Montana story
An especially gripping story about that Hotel Montana online family born out of the hotel’s rubble was written by Rukmini Callimachi, West Africa correspondent for the Associated Press. Callimachi went to Haiti three months after the quake to write a story about how survivors were coping.
Last week, Callimachi won the Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism writing Award for her article, “Haiti: Hotel Montana,” presented by the Journalism Department of Ball State University.
Writing on the wall of the “Haiti Earthquake Hotel Montana” FB page, Callimachi wrote this week:
“Hello everyone. I’m Rukmini, and for several months last year I had the honor of getting to know you. On Wednesday night, I shared your story with students at Ball State University, some of whom wiped away tears as they listened to the journey all of you endured. It was hard for me to re-read the Haiti: Hotel Montana story and to remember your enormous loss … You are not forgotten.”
Other friends felt compelled to comment on Callimachi on the same page. One wrote, “Our hero, Rukmini, made it back from the Ivory Coast and kept her appointment at Ball State after all. She’s continuing to tell the story of this amazing HM (Hotel Montana) family. Still here. Still grieving. Yet still filled with hope.”
Other posts on the Haiti Earthquake Hotel Montana page show the intensity of feelings being expressed on this social media site, well over a year after the quake. Some of them also show the power that a journalist can have in telling a story like this to the world. Among the thousands of posts:
- “Hey HM family – almost bed time for me, and all I want to do right now is find the Haitian people who helped my brother survive the earthquake over a year ago and hug them.”
- “More than writing “about” this online family, Rukmini became “part” of this online family, and many of us are honored to have met her here.”
- “Hello everyone. Just wanted to let y’all know I’m thinking about you … This family is in my blood, and I have been blessed so much by it. As always, holding you in my heart.”
- “The earthquake in Japan has brought our emotions soaring high again. We miss Jim every day, but it’s been extra tough this month watching the news and seeing the devastation. A lot of us here know somewhat of they are going through.”
- (Stopping in to let my HM family know you are never far from my thoughts. I pray each of you is doing well and remembering the good times you shared with those you love.”
- “Love and prayers to my Hotel Montana family. Still taking things one day at a time. Praying for the people of Japan and all families affected by this terrible tragedy.”
It may well be that, in times of tragedy like those experienced by Haitians in 2010 and Japanese in 2011, these are the moments when the social media plays its most positive role in the world.