Twitter, Facebook become lifelines for Haiti

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

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Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, noted that people need to be aware of scammers trolling social networks trying to trick people by posing as a relief organization. However, he also said that Facebook and Twitter are natural communication tools, especially when people are facing a crisis.

"Messaging networks are able to allow people to share information when there is a breakdown in normal communications, for whatever reason," said Gottheil. "Well, we've seen that where there's chaos, Twitter becomes more important."

Last June, Twitter played a key role during the harsh government crackdown that followed the disputed Iranian elections. After the Iranian government blocked or shut down various lines of communication -- including phone lines, Facebook, YouTube and even text messaging -- people got photos and information out of the country in 140-character bursts.

And last January, people onboard a US Airways jet that had to make an emergency water landing in New York's Hudson River, tweeted during their rescue.

But even with those events under Twitter's belt, the Haitian earthquake seems to have taken the use of social networks to an even higher level.

"Social networking played a large role in getting the word out for events like the Hudson River plan crash and the crisis surrounding the Iranian elections," said Olds. "But the Haiti earthquake is a different kind of event. It's much larger in terms of the number of people affected and in the length of time it takes to even assess the damage there....

"As Haiti comes back online, I think we can expect to see an even greater outpouring of stories, images, and information about the extent of the damage and the impact of relief efforts," he said.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, send e-mail to or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed .

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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