Social Media: Helping or Hurting Relief Efforts?
Relief efforts are pouring into the country of Haiti after its devastating 7.0 earthquake last week. Millions around the world are responding to the needs in Haiti and many organizations are using social media and text messaging to raise support for their efforts. The quick access to opportunities for support via social media and texting has changed the way that we engage such relief efforts. Specifically, social media (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, etc.) has granted viewers direct access to the relief activities with real-time photos, articles, and news coverage.
Is this a good thing? Here are some of my thoughts:
- Social media provides real-time information that may be vital for individuals and organizations. It not only allows people to stay on top of the most current information, but it also provides a platform for information sharing and collaborative efforts.
- Social media has the power to move masses of people quickly towards involvement and investment at minimal cost (if any) to the organization. Social media allows people to get involved in one simple click [ok, maybe a few more 🙂 ].
- Social media also inspires creative action in others. The access of information provided by social often will inspire new works by individuals and organizations impacted by a crisis. It then allows for a quick set up of a new venture of hope and help.
The Not So Good:
- Unfortunately, social media also provides a platform for scams. Scams usually appear within 24 hours of any natural disaster. With the addition of social media, many scammers are leveraging the platform and its tools to coerce or trick people into giving. In a recent Chicago Sun-Times article, the following helpful tips were given to help us filter the legitimate organizations working versus scammers:
- Check out the organization at sites for the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org), foundationcenter.org or charitynavigator.org.
- Examine the Web address of purported groups. Avoid ones that end in a series of numbers.
- Be extremely skeptical of Web sites asking for personal information, such as a Social Security number, birth date or bank account information — it could go to identity thieves.
- Don’t click on links or open attachments contained within aid-related spam.
- Secondly, there are those who have good (if not great) intentions that unfortunately move towards drives or campaigns that may not actually bring the help that’s needed most during the initial stages of relief. In the heat of the moment, many are starting unnecessary efforts that further dilute the avenues through which people may actually help. My advice here is take time to do the research before you start a well-meaning, but possibly unhelpful, movement. If your research and conversations with proven relief organizations affirm the need to create something, go ahead and do so (Please!). Until then, don’t let a perceived need confuse you from actual needs.
- Social media can also help spread myths about disaster relief work. Relevant magazine just did a great article about Diaster Relief Myths. According to Relevant, here are some common myths (i.e., untrue) spreading right now to the detriment of the relief efforts in Haiti:
- Collecting blankets, shoes and clothing is a cost-effective way to help.
- If I send cash, my help won’t get there.
- Volunteers are desperately needed in emergency situations.
- Unaccompanied children should be adopted as quickly as possible to get them out of dangerous conditions.
- People are helpless in the face of natural disasters.
I genuinely believe that most of us really want to help. I think social media may play a big part in doing this. Nevertheless, we must still use some common sense and good research before we commit to a relief effort, even if it takes a little bit more time. Quite honestly, it shouldn’t take that much time to figure out whether the person or organization you’re giving to is legitimate.
Listen. Learn. Love. Give.