On January 14, 2010, in my stream (@judyrey) I saw a Tweet that said CNN had just announced a massive 7.0 earthquake had occurred in Haiti.
Since I follow back the over 130,000 people who follow me and I can quickly skim, I have an advantage. I can spot news and important information quickly. Awful news like a 7.0 earthquake means my day just changes as I will use my tweets to work to help people and hopefully save lives.
I immediately did a Twitter search for “Haiti” and found tweets and re-tweets of news coming from Twitter’s news sources, but there seemed to be scant few from anyone in Haiti. That was strange.
The earthquake in Haiti is far from the first emergency where I used my Twitter network to help not the first quake I have been active in using Twitter as a helpful resource.
The first emergency when I participated in Tweeting information was the Mumbai attack on November 26, 2008. It was an event that changed how I saw Twitter and my role on Twitter.
I noticed that “Mumbai” had become a Trending Topic. Curious, I did a search for #Mumbai and discovered a stream of tweets coming from people in Mumbai, plus those outside who re-tweeted information. No one in Mumbai seemed to know what was going on, but there were gunshots coming from various places and suddenly regular citizens were under attack.
Essentially, when people in Mumbai knew of a safe or dangerous place they tweeted the information via their cell phones. This was re-tweeted again and again, so it would be seen by others in Mumbai when they searched on Twitter on their cell phones. Twitter The Twitter platform allowed those of use who cared enough to volunteer to become a link in a large stream of walkie-talkie type communications between people in a common emergency situation who otherwise would not be connected.
The secondary information we re-tweeted concerned helping friends and loved ones find their loved ones in Mumbai.
I had fewer than 2000 followers so I wondered how much good by re-tweeting the helpful information would do, but it was worth a try. Since my re-tweets were again re-tweeted (passed along by others), and since I used #Mumbai I re-tweeted the Mumbai showed up in searches, it became quickly apparent that my meager two cents was worth a lot for #Mumbai.
I noticed that as I veered away from my usual tweeting topics of art, inspiration and awareness with some humor and comments on Social Media tossed in I lost followers. Clearly diverging from what others perceived as my brand was not welcomed.
It seems to me that tweeting to help others during a crisis or emergency is totally part of any real artist’s brand. We artists were (and some would say are) the original spiritual leaders, the ones who bring the “fire down from heaven” making it seen and heard to inspire others. What is more spiritual than helping to save lives?
Since many people have cell phones with internet access that they have with them most of the time Twitter has quickly grown to be an initial and important information broadcasting media, especially in an emergency. During the past year it has become standard that major TV, radio and print media follow Twitter to pick up early information about breaking news. But, unlike old media, through Twitter lives can be saved and injuries prevented as people in dangerous situations are tweeted immediate information.
After Mumbai, some of the events where I have re-tweeted possibly life saving and helpful information include the “Miracle on the Hudson’, the earthquake in Italy, the protests in Iran, the recent quakes in Samoa, plus several hostage situations, including Fort Hood. Stepping in and helping via Tweets has become a part of my life.
Until Haiti’s 7.0 earthquake.
Within ten minutes of the first tweet I saw it was apparent that whatever had happened in Haiti was unlike anything we had dealt with on Twitter before. The majority of the news about the Haiti quake was coming from news sources, such as CNN, not from Twitter members in Haiti.
I went to wefollow.com and discovered only a few members based in Haiti.Only three had tweeted recently. I found one missionary tweeting in Haiti who knew the situation was catastrophic but he was outside of Port au Prince. His phone was running out of power. A different missionary source in Florida who relaying some information from their people in Haiti, while also seeking to discover more. Plus a follower found someone else who was in Haiti and also running out of power on his cell phone. Several people outside of Haiti had received phone calls from loved ones there and tweeted the little information they had.
The few first and second hand tweets informed us that Haiti was devastated. The overwhelming lack of tweets from Haiti itself indicated a catastrophe beyond what we had dealt with on Twitter so far. There were no safe places. No shelters. No emergency responders. There was nothing we could tweet to the people in Haiti that would help them get fare better that first night.
The Twitter stream was filled with re-tweets about Haiti, relief organizations to contact and ways to give, but not tweets from Haiti itself. Haiti’s poverty and lack of communications infrastructure, plus the massiveness of the quake was experienced on Twitter. Until relief personnel and newscasters arrived in Haiti Twitter members lacked first hand tweets.
What caused the majority of deaths and damage in the San Francisco quake was not the quake itself but the fires it started. Haiti’s poverty may have also helped to save more lives than were actually lost from the views that I have seen in newscasts. Since many of the homes and shanties in Haiti lacked electricity and gas lines, since not many people own gasoline powered vehicles and there are few gas stations, fire was not an additional problem from the quake.
Today, a week after the quake, there is a hopeful sign on Twitter.
The first few messages from people in Haiti asking for specific needs, such as water at specific locations indicates the Haitians and relief workers are beginning to create some order, plus the hope that there is someone who can bring the necessary aid. Twitter is again being used to relay to unknown people, which are again tweeted and seen by others who can help or use the information.
I am grateful to be a Twitter member and to have the opportunity to join with strangers who often become friends as we tweet and re-tweet within hashtags such as #Mumbai, #Italy, #IranElection, #Samoa and now #Haiti. Join us. Thanks to Twitter, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, you can take a few moments to tweet and re-tweet to help people in emergency situations and disasters, and even save lives.
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Judy Rey Wasserman is an artist and the founder of Post Conceptual Art theory and also the branch known as UnGraven Image Art. Download a free copy click: Manifesto of Post Conceptual Art– A Painting’s Meaning is Inherent in its Stroke.
Check out the limited and open edition prints in the estore.
Follow her on Twitter at @judyrey .]