Thursday, January 14, 2010

Twitter, Haiti and a Global Community

"Twitter's human touch amid the horror of Haiti"
Times Online (January 13, 2010)

"Minutes after last night's devastating earthquake in Haiti, Twitter and other social networking sites were abuzz with witness accounts, photographs and appeals for help.

"Wyclef Jean, the Haitian-born musician and record producer – who used much of the wealth generated by the success of the band The Fugees to set up Yele Haiti, a charity to improve living conditions in the Caribbean country – was among the first to launch an appeal for financial aid through Twitter. In his latest tweet, he is waiting for a plane to take him to Haiti via the Dominican Republic.

"Jean's appeal uses a reverse-charge text number for users in the United States. His Twitter page has 1.3 million followers.

"In Haiti itself, Carel Pedre, a local celebrity DJ and TV presenter, has been offering his eyewitness reports to international news organisations such as the BBC and CNN via his Twitter feed. His images of the aftermath of the disaster have been picked up by the Associated Press...."

As a rule, I don't add links from the originals of my excerpts. What's going on in Haiti seemed to warrant a bit of extra attention.

Another point of view:

"Haiti Earthquake Twitter Photos Expose Quake Devastation"
Associated Content News (January 13, 2010)

"The Haiti earthquake is a Twitter hot topic as users provide devastating photos. Haiti earthquake Twitter photos have put the tragedy front and center becauseTwitter is one of the few communication tools left over there. After the 7.0 quake struck yesterday, most power and services were knocked out, but the people still had other means to show what happened. The Haiti earthquake Twitter pictures and accounts have shown the world the horror that they must recover from.

"The first accounts of the powerful earthquake came from Twitter as witnesses and others in the area used it to break the news. Although most of the power in Haiti is out, pictures from mobile phones and other sources have gotten online. Thanks to Twitter, these pictures are being posted and spread through the online media world...."

"...The Haiti earthquake may have been a gigantic tragedy, but Twitter is enjoying the fruits of it. Thanks in part to this story, the social network had its most traffic ever yesterday. Of course, they were also helped by the Mark McGwire story, the Leno vs. O'Brien late night wars, and Lane Kiffin going to USC. But this quake helped put them over the top.

"That is a cynical way to look at things. However, the Haiti earthquake Twitter traffic has had more lasting benefits. With these pictures, and a look at how the people are coping, online media has out scooped the regular press once again. In addition, with the likes of Jean spreading their efforts online, more awareness and help can be given out...."

I didn't know where the Associated Content writer was going with that article. There's a tendency, I've noticed, for people to assume that 'those people over there' act from strictly selfish motives. And, of course, that anything said or done in connection with a disaster like the one Haiti's experience is to be viewed cynically.

I agree with those last two sentences: "With these pictures, and a look at how the people are coping, online media has out scooped the regular press once again. In addition, with the likes of Jean spreading their efforts online, more awareness and help can be given out."

Information technology like the Internet has changed the rules. Back in the "good old days," when I was growing up, Americans read the newspaper and magazines, and listened to the radio to learn what was happening around the world. I remember what a huge difference the evening news on television made, when it arrived.

The "good old days"? I don't ever want to go back. It was a time when a relatively small, select number of information gatekeepers decided what "the masses" should see.

That was then.

Now, a much wider swath of humanity can make their voices heard. Twittering from Haiti is just part of what's developing. And I think it's driving some of the traditional information gatekeepers bonkers. Which is another topic. ("What is an Information Gatekeeper?," Another War-on-Terror Blog (August 14, 2009))

As a case-in-point, I live in a small town in central Minnesota: but my circle of online friends and acquaintances include people who live on different continents. In some cases, I don't know where they live. And, although it's interesting, I don't need to know: They're part of the same online communities I belong to.

No, this is definitely not "the good old days."

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