Facebook creates site dedicated to providing earthquake info

Facebook has created a page on its social network to help guide the huge numbers of users that have turned to it to get and share information about the massive earthquake in Haiti .

In the days following this week's devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake, people turned to social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to get information about the damage, the status of family members in Haiti and to find legitimate charitable organizations to contribute to.

"Moments after the earthquake hit, we started seeing a response on Facebook," said Andrew Noyes, manager of public policy communications at Facebook. "It was very organic. People were posting status messages about Haiti at about 1,500 per minute. That pace continued through yesterday."

Noyes declined to compare the response on Facebook to the Haitian disaster to similar outpourings of support during the Iranian election crisis last year or after a US Airways jet made an emergency landing in New York's Hudson River.

But Noyes did say that the response of Facebook users to this week's disaster has been unprecedented.

"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," he added. "This is the first disaster of this magnitude where the Internet has played this big of a role."

Noyes also noted that disaster relief volunteers in Haiti from organizations like Catholic Relief Services have been using the Facebook status updates and chat features to communicate with other volunteers, as well as with relief workers outside of the country.

The sheer number of Facebook users who are communicating on the site about the disaster prompted Facebook to create a Disaster Relief page to help people find useful information. The page is designed to provide users with information on legitimate fund-raising organizations along with a place to share information and see videos, according to Noyes.

"On Wednesday night, we saw all of this happening and decided we needed a clearinghouse -- one-stop shopping," said Noyes. "Our Global Disaster Relief page on Facebook is going to stay up after the Haiti tragedy subsides. This page is expanding all the time. We're posting new links and new content constantly. We're linking to other pages. It's a living page being updated around the clock."

The new page had about 35,000 fans this afternoon, up from about 12,000 Thursday morning .

Noyes also pointed out that Facebook Causes , an application that connects users with non-profit organizations or issues they care about, has also seen high traffic numbers this week.

Members of Oxfam International , a group of 14 charitable organizations, created the first fund raising campaign for Haiti on the Cause page just a few hours after the earthquake hit on Tuesday. As of Friday afternoon, Oxfam had raised $60,000 for Haiti relief from the Causes page, according to Noyes. All the organizations using the Cause page to raise money for Haiti have pulled in a total of about $250,000, he added.

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 sgaudin@computerworld.com or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed .

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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