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A View from Kristina Grifantini

Texting, Tweeting, and Crowd-Sourcing Help Haitian Earthquake Efforts

As donation information spreads, users are warned to be cautious of scams.

  • January 13, 2010

The 7.0-magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti last evening is thought to have caused the deaths of thousands of people. But social web technology is allowing for a rapid mobilization of resources and speedy spread of information–identifying points of care within the country and hastening donation efforts from around the world.

Crowd-sourcing tools such as Ushahdi (shown here) helping spread information about the disaster in Haiti.

Almost immediately pictures from the disaster and requests for donations sprang up on the micro-blogging site Twitter. And other websites are being used to crowd-source useful information–for example, the open-sourced technology Ushahidi, which generates crisis maps and timelines by aggregating information submitted through texts, emails or web postings. On a map of Haiti, color-coded pinpoints show hospitals, clinic treatment centers, reports of building collapses and other of-the-moment news, aimed to help survivors in the area and to provide a reliable source of aggregating news.

Donation are being collected through “text to donate” services. By sending a text to a number representing a reputable charity, a user donates a set amount of money, which is automatically added to her phone bill, no credit card information required. For example, users can text “HAITI” to 90999 to automatically donate $10 to the Red Cross.

However, news sites are warning those who want to donate to be cautious of scammers, who often send out fake requests for donations immediately following a disaster, hoping from the influx of people looking to donate.

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