The devastation that Haiti is facing after Tuesday’s earthquake is flooring and 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 and challenges at hand at this juncture. Most importantly, we need to be conscious of the role our own egos play. We have a desperate need to feel useful in situations that make us feel helpless. Tech makes it easy to share information, which makes us feel useful, but we have to be aware of our impulses and sort out what’s good and what’s not so good. Here’s my take:
First, the good stuff — being able to get the word out. People have been passing along word from the Red Cross, Yele.org, The IRC, Mercy Corps, and others on easy ways to donate money‚ especially via txt message. You can send a text message on your cellphone, for example, to 90999 with the word HAITI, and that will donate $10 to the RedCross’ fund.
The ability to read news coming from inside Haiti via everyday people is also incredibly powerful. We aren’t reliant on potentially broken information structures (like government news agencies, for example) to find out what’s happening in real time.
The other side of this is the potential for the spread of misinformation is high. Our brains aren’t equipped to use technology to deal with highly emotionally charged situations, in many cases‚ they’re built to rely on a variety of physical cues to filter and respond, and those cues are often missing when reading updates on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere.
We automatically assign that trust, or authority, over to our online friends in situations that don’t necessarily warrant it. Because I generally trust my network to post smart and thoughtful things, during times of crisis, the urge to repost what seems like important information from them without verifying it first is high. We have to change this behavior, and look for ways to establish authority of sources and verify information without falling back on old models of giving institutions like news orgs and governments the authority.
For more information on social media and change, check out excerpts from my upcoming book, Share This!: How You Will Change the World with Social Networking at my website, deannazandt.com.