Twitter, smartphones and the Haitian crisis
Jan 15, 2010, 10:32 GMT
Washington - Many concerned people around the world are turning to Twitter and smartphones to find out what's happening in Haiti and to offer help.
News reports on the deadly earthquake regularly mention Twitter as a source of information, but using Twitter to find specific news about Haiti is not exactly easy.
Relief organizations are now routinely soliciting donations by smartphone, but most people have never used their phones for this purpose. So how can you navigate this new technology both to plumb for the latest news and to offer your support?
Q: I hear a lot of news reports about the Haitian earthquake referring to posts on Twitter. How can I use Twitter to find out more about the Haitian crisis?
A: Twitter is tailor-made for up-to-the-minute, firsthand reports about significant events and finding news stories and links that others have found useful. But finding anything on Twitter can be difficult if you're not used to the service.
Thankfully, you don't even have to be a member of Twitter to see what's happening on the site, but you will have to be a bit clever about how you search. Otherwise, you'll be overwhelmed with search results.
Your best to get specific results is to use Twitter's advanced search page (http://search.twitter.com/advanced), where you can specify the exact words you're looking for and use the Boolean operators AND, OR, and NOT to limit the results.
Type 'Haitian AND earthquake,' for example, to find Twitter submissions - or 'tweets' - that contain both terms. Type 'Haiti OR earthquake' to find tweets that contain either term. Use the Boolean operator NOT to find the first time but not the second in tweets.
You'll also be able to use Twitter's advanced search page to limit results to a specific language or date range - or to specify whether you want to see tweets that contain links. You can even limit the tweets you see to those that originate near a certain place, such as Haiti itself.
The third-party Twitter search tools Twazzup (http://www.twazzup.com), Collecta (http://collecta.com) and Scoopler (http://www.scoopler.com) are also handy. The latter two search not only Twitter but other social-networking sites.
Q: How can I make a donation through my smartphone for Haitian disaster relief?
A: Some relief organizations, recognizing the widespread use of cell phones and smartphones, have made it easy to send a donation via text message to a certain number.
Here's how it works. The relief organization provides a number that you type into the 'To' field of your mobile phone's SMS (text) window. In the body of the message, you enter a key phrase that should also be provided to you.
For example, the Red Cross (http://www.redcross.org) has set up a service whereby you can donate 10 dollars by sending a text message to the number 90999 with the word 'Haiti,' without quotation marks, in the body of the message. The Clinton Foundation (http://clintonfoundation.org/haitiearthquake), similarly, has set up a text number through which you can donate 10 dollars to relief efforts. Again, you type the word HAITI in the body of your text message and send it to the number 20222.
It's that easy. On your next mobile-phone bill, you will see a 10- dollar charge for the donation. Be sure, of course, that you're confident about the organization to which you are sending a donation. It's a good idea to check the organization's web site before sending a donation by text to ensure that you're not falling prey to a scam.
Q: How can I be sure I am giving my Haitian relief money to a reputable organization?
A: Give only to organizations that you have heard of or that reliable news sources tell you are legitimate. The American Red Cross (http://www.redcross.org), UNICEF (http://www.unicef.org), CARE (http://www.care.org), Doctors without Borders (http://doctorswithoutborders.org) and Hope for Haiti (http://www.hopeforhaiti.com) are all widely cited as being reputable and legitimate.
Do not respond to e-mail messages that claim to provide links to a relief organization. Scammers can set up web sites overnight to exploit your concern and altruism. Be wary of claims that 100 per cent of your donation will go toward relief. All relief efforts have administrative and overhead costs, and these are paid for in great part through a small percentage of the donation you make.
You may want to take the time to find out whether the organization you're donating to actually has workers on the ground or whether it is acting as a middleman between you and the organization that ultimately gets your money. Donating directly will ensure that more of your money reaches those who are most in need.