In a time when many find fault with negative uses of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, it’s been good to see news reports showing the good that is coming from these sites.
I’m referring to the communication link that these sites are providing the devastated victims of the earthquake in Haiti. By their own accounts, without Facebook and Twitter, they would have no way of communicating with the outside world. These sites are also serving as very effective ways to raise a lot of money for relief efforts in this Caribbean nation.
As one ABC reporter noted, the same social media that have been struggling to make money for themselves have become an important way to raise money for others in need. Case in point, by Thursday night of this week — just a day or so after putting out a plea on Facebook and Twitter for funds for Haitian relief — singer Wyclef Jean’s Facebook plea had garnered pledges of over $1 million. And the Haitian musician was hoping to get a multi-million gift from golfer Tiger Woods.
Another ABC report has noted that this donation, plus those coming in from similar Facebook and Twitter pleas generated by entertainers like Ben Stiller, Dr. Phil, the Dixie Chicks, Shaquille O’Neal, and Tyra Banks has resulted in the most money ever raised for relief in such a short period of time.
But the fund-raising has been only part of the role that the social media have played in this Haitian disaster. Sites like Facebook and Twitter have been the only communication many Haitians have had with the outside world, and vice versa. Family members and friends from around the world have largely been unable to contact their loved ones in Haiti by phone and have gone to the social meda sites instead where many have made connections with those they sought, or at least have received news about them.
USA Today writer Judy Keen has written that one Michigan woman in Haiti, Terri Vruggink, used a satellite Internet connection to let family and friends back home in East Grand Rapids, that she was alive.
“Facebook is my lifeline right now,” she said told Keen via Facebook’s messaging system.
Vruggink, a photographer documenting a missionary group’s work in Saint-Marc, is among many people using social-networking sites to share news and photos, ask for help finding missing loved ones or seek donations, Keen said.
“Facebook has been the only way that we could let people see what is happening,” said Phyllis Bass, one of five members of the Gateway Free Will Baptist Church in Virginia Beach, Va., Bass touched down in this country just an hour before the earthquake struck. She is using Facebook to tell her friends she is okay and to send photos to them of the devastation. She spoke to USA Today via Facebook’s messaging system.
As of Thursday, more than 1,500 Facebook status updates containing the word “Haiti” had appeared since the quake hit, according to the site’s spokesman, Andrew Noyes.
The cell phone companies are also collecting a lot of money for Haiti. Verizon Wireless set up a system whereby cell phone customers can text 90999 to give $10 to the relief effort, and that amount will automatically be charged to their Verizon bill. As of Wednesday, the company’s spokesman Jeff Nelson said more than $1 million had been received.