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Twitter, Facebook become lifelines for Haiti

After massive earthquake, people take to social networks to donate, find loved ones

January 14, 2010 03:45 PM ET

Computerworld - Social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook have quickly become lifelines for people trying to get information about loved ones, damaged areas and ways to donate in the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti.

After Tuesday's 7.0-magnatude earthquake shook the small nation, reports have surfaced that between 45,000 and 50,000 may be dead, according to the Red Cross based in Haiti. Another three million people are reported injured or now homeless, and the death toll could rise even higher.

With that many people affected by the quake, untold numbers around the world have been trying to get the latest information on the situation. They've also been trying to find out the status of loved ones and colleagues, while also seeking out legitimate organizations that they can donate money to in order to help relief efforts.

As a result, many have been turning to Twitter and Facebook in droves.

"I think that we'll see social networking playing a large and larger role in the Haiti earthquake disaster," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. "From what I've been able to track so far, Haiti is a huge topic of conversation in Twitter, for example. People are tweeting their followers, encouraging them to contribute to aid efforts. I've heard of others that are tweeting in an attempt to locate friends and relatives as well."

Haiti has been a huge topic on Twitter ever since the news of the earthquake hit on Tuesday. As of Thursday afternoon, two Haiti-related terms remain in the site's top 10 list of topics.

For instance, today "Yele" is one of the most popular topics on Twitter. Micro-bloggers are tweeting and retweeting messages urging followers to donate $5 to singer Wyclef Jean's Yele Haiti Foundation. Word is quickly spreading that people can make the donation by simply texting the word "Yele" to the number 501501.

And calls for donations also are spreading like wildfire across Facebook. Users are urging their friends to make donations, share stories and post any new information they may have.

"The personal nature of social networks, like Twitter and Facebook, make these messages much more powerful than, for instance, an impersonal message delivered on TV or the radio," said Olds. "When someone you either personally know -- or at least feel like you know because you've been reading about their activities -- is impacted by a tragedy or asks for your help, I think you're more likely to help them."



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