Disaster + social networks = opportunities to help and need for thoughtfulness

Disaster + social networks = opportunities to help and need for thoughtfulness

The devastation that Haiti is facing after the earthquakes and aftershocks from yesterday is flooring. That a country already so hard hit by utter economic and political distress could be nailed with such a fierce disaster is emotionally wrenching for many of us. And lately, when we’re hard hit, we take to social networks to work out our pain and find a way to manage it.

There are several opportunities we have at hand, and before I run off to a morning meeting, I wanted to address some of the ups and downs of dealing with disasters via technologies. The biggest thing we need to be aware of right now is the role our own egos play in these situations. We have a desperate need to feel useful in situations that make us feel helpless, and the ease with which we can share our thoughts and stories amplifies ways we think we’re being helpful when we’re dealing with emotionally charged material. We need to be aware of our impulses and sort out what’s good and what’s not so good. Here’s my take:

  • Getting the word out, the good stuff. People have been passing along word from the Red Cross, Mercy Corps, Yele and other organizations on easy and fast ways to donate money to relief efforts– especially via txt message. You can send a text message on your phone, for example, to 90999 with the word HAITI, and that will donate $10 to the RedCross’ fund. The charge will appear on your next phone bill.

    The abilitiy to read and see news coming from inside Haiti via everyday people, like many other situations recently, is also fascinating, and incredibly powerful. We aren’t reliant on potentially corrupt or broken information structures (like government news agencies, for example) to find out what’s happening in real time.

  • Getting the word out, the challenging stuff. The other side of the ability to share information quickly and easily is that the potential for the spread of misinformation is high. We aren’t physiologically equipped to deal with highly charged situations via new technologies, in many cases– our brains are built to rely on a variety of cues to filter and respond, and those cues are often missing when reading updates on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere.

    Because we’ve established trust with the people that we communicate with online, we automatically assign that trust, or authority, over to situations that don’t necessarily warrant it. Because I generally trust my friends to post smart/thoughtful things, the urge to repost what seems like important information from them in times of crisis without verifying it first is high. We have to change this behavior, and look for ways to establish authority of sources (without falling back on old models of only giving institutions like news orgs and governments the authority) and to verify what we share before doing so.

I wrote about this a whole bunch in Share This!, and I’m going to post those sections this afternoon when I return. Stay tuned…

UPDATE: The relevant sections from the book are now up. Start with “Stop, Drop and … Think.