The loss of life and destruction in Haiti is just devastating. I, who love words, find myself speechless when I see the pictures of people wading through the rubble of their lives. It's hard to make sense of any of it. But, I have seen one bright spot - I have found hope in the outpouring of support originating from around the world. People of all races, religions and backgrounds are coming together to help.
And the network, it turns out, is facilitating a lot of it. It has helped quickly spread information, solicit help and provided a lifeline between those in and outside of Haiti. For starters, it's enabling people to donate what they can to organizations that are directly impacting the relief and support activities on the ground in Haiti. The White House suggests donating to the <a href="http://www.redcross.org/?adid=011310_midweeknewsletter_messagetheredcross">Red Cross</a>, which you can do online. You can also easily donate $10 by sending the text message "Haiti" to 90999 and the donation will be automatically added to your cell phone bill. (As of yesterday, more than $1 million had been raised this way by texters using all different wireless companies.)
The network has also been a key witness and participant in the event itself - within minutes, and I mean literally minutes, photos and news of the devastation were posted online; maps of the area and scientific explanations of the fault-lines involved were linked to real-time views from witnesses and first-hand accounts of the quake. Simultaneously, calls for aid went out and philanthropic organizations began mobilizing the response. Again, within minutes, organizations were sending out information to first responders and aid workers to coordinate their efforts.
Facebook and Twitter were serving as main sources of information. They were providing critical links to family and friends around the world, who were/are frantically trying to get information on the safety and well-being of those they know in the area. Note, users primarily connected via satellite because phone and landline connections were down or unpredictable. (The satellite Internet connectivity is similar to what was availalble during Katrina, until hastily erected cell towers were able to provide connectivity to many on the ground.) A <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/tech/webguide/internetlife/2010-01-13-haitisocial_N.htm">USA Today article </a>reported that "there have been more than 1,500 Facebook status updates per minute containing the word "Haiti" since the quake, according to Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes." Blogs are being used as online <a href="livesayhaiti.blogspot.com">bulletin boards </a>providing information and acting as a resource on those who are missing.
A quick visit to the Red Cross site (and those of other similar organizations) shows you how they are mobilizing volunteers, centralizing information about how and where to give blood, and helping connect people to pertinent information regarding a specific event or need, etc. Of course, this is nothing new. Relief and aid organizations have been using online sites to <a href="http://www.globalgiving.com">link people </a>to humanitarian needs for years, but the use of social media to mobilize and activate groups is certainly becoming more and more sophisticated and effective.
If you think back just ten years ago, the flow of information and the ability to solicit and receive timely support was much different. And this is the promise and hope of the network - if it can help people band together and get involved, even in small ways, there's the opportunity to ultimately make a big difference or solve big problems. Of course, in Haiti, the personal devastation and loss of life will always be irreparable, but as the other needs in Haiti evolve I am hopefully that we have the connections we need to make a difference and help them rebuild their lives. My thoughts are with them.
Sarah Sorensen is the author of The Sustainable Network: The Accidental Answer for a Troubled Planet. The Sustainable Network demonstrates how we can tackle challenges, ranging from energy conservation to economic and social innovation, using the global network -- of which the public Internet is just one piece. This book demystifies the power of the network, and issues a strong call to action.