Twitter and Facebook to the fore in aid effort
Minutes after Tuesday 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 US. 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.
Mr Pedre's tweets consist of offers to help contact worried Haitians abroad. Such has been the response that his latest entry reads: "Facebook Get Rid Of My 5K Friends Limit Now! I Have more than 2,000 Requests From Haitians All Over The World Who Want To Know What's Going on."
This latest disaster highlights the way social media sites have come to the fore as a means of raising global awareness and cash. First-hand accounts and contacts via sites such as Facebook and Twitter bring humanity and immediacy to major news events that professional accounts can sometimes lack.
On the Facebook fan page of Karlito, a local musician, there is one worried message from a fan: "Where are you????? talk to us, PLEASE!!!" Karlito has not posted since yesterday afternoon.
Charities such as Oxfam have been quick to harness the power of social networking. Sarah Brown of Oxfam said that the response through Oxfam's Twitter feed had been remarkable.
"Social networking sites such as Twitter allow us to get the news out there as fast as possible, and the response in terms of re-tweeting from our 8,000 followers has been amazing," she said. (©The Times, London).