Wednesday, January 15, 2014

How Haiti earthquake launched 'digital humanitarianism'

When an earthquake devastated Haiti four years ago on Jan. 12, it also shook up how the world responds to such disasters. With the use of the Internet and mobile phones, survivors in Haiti sent out cries for help through tweets, texting, Facebook, and other digital media. Volunteers around the world then sifted the information to create a digital map on computers to guide relief workers and the American military toward the people most in need.

This real-time “crisis mapping” saved thousands of lives.

On the fourth anniversary of the earthquake, it is worth noting how much “digital humanitarianism” has come of age, breaking down the barriers of space and time and allowing individuals globally to better help others after a large natural disaster.

With each leap in communication technology, compassion knows fewer boundaries. Just as CNN improved on the speed of newspapers in reporting on a crisis, the digital mapping of social media improves on CNN, compiling and digesting data through crowdsourcing. During Roman times, Jesus asked, “Having ears, hear ye not?” Today, the question might be: “Having a crisis map of disaster X, respond ye not?”

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