Social Media Comes to the Rescue

Anyone logged on to social media networking sites over the past few days has seen a surge of sharing about Haiti and the aftermath of last week’s devastating earthquake. The idea of connecting people with information using the Internet as a tool has always been there, but the mostly one-way communication seemed to morph into a welcomed two-way communication system overnight.

Twitter and Facebook, in particular, were the hub for an incredible exchange of information. One centered around the plight of two sisters from Pittsburgh running an orphanage in Haiti. What first popped up on several different Internet websites as a plea from family and friends for updates on their status soon turned into social media updates urging anyone who would listen to help the two young women and their 150 orphans with basic supplies and safety. As the tweets and retweets began popping up on Twitter, one thing became apparent: Social networking was in full swing and packing quite a punch.

photo by Laura Petrilla

At one point ABC’s Chris Cuomo, who has more than 1 million followers on Twitter, was reporting in real-time from Haiti. He used the power of the tweet to actually locate the endangered BRESMA orphanage and relay pleas for help to local resources. Countless other media personalities were on the ground there as well, sharing photographs and story lines.

American Luke Renner of Fireside International, a non-profit media company, was working in Haiti when the earthquake struck. He opened communications with other organizations and government officials primarily through Twitter and Facebook to begin coordinating rescue and supply efforts in Port Au Prince and elsewhere on the island.

There are countless stories of media and everyday people keeping in touch through those two sites and even Skype to relay information about the devastating situation. Many of them are communications from those in Haiti letting their loved ones know they are alive and need help.

Most Americans are accustomed to the media swarm associated with any tragedy or scandal. What is unusual about this emergency is the deluge of information flowing both to and from the media through social website outlets. Not only are there reports coming out, a stream of information is being sent back to those sources, enabling the relief effort to be more organized and mobilize faster.

The power of social media has shown itself from time to time, although not everyone has found a way to harness its power. For those interested or involved in Haiti’s devastation, it seems to be working very well.

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