Twitter Rumors Reveal Underside of Social Media

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Facebook, Twitter, Digg, StumbleUpon, and other social media and networking websites have each played significant roles in the past few days, as people have sought to share information about Haiti in a bid to help those affected by Tuesday’s devastating earthquake.

TwitterBut it isn’t just the temblor that is making news as certain false reports, even scams, have been tweeted, posted, dugg, or otherwise disseminated online.

Two Falsehoods, One Fact

Take the following tweet which is causing a lot of headaches for two US airlines: “Jet Blue and American Airlines is offering to fly doctors and nurses to Haiti for free.” That information was posted with a link to an article stating the same.

The Truth: Well, the article is wrong and the airlines have denied making this offer. In fact, neither company is flying to Port-au-Prince right now, no commercial carriers are being allowed in. Untold numbers of tweets later and finally the corrected information is being tweeted. Still, the offending inaccurate article has yet to be updated.

Another tweet claimed the following: “UPS IS SHIPPING TO HAITI FOR FREE TOMORROW UNDER 50 lbs. Clothing/food drives @ all United Way & Salvation Army.”

The Truth: UPS reports that no such offer has been made and the company can’t even get its trucks around the country. What the package delivery company has said is that it is donating $1 million through its charitable arm, The UPS Foundation. $500,000 in cash and $500,000 in in-kind donations.

But not every tweet trying to help quake victims is false.

The Truth: Some organizations are raising money by asking people to text a certain word such as ‘Haiti’ to a supplied five digit number. If handled correctly, then organizations such as the American Red Cross, Compassion International, Yele Haiti, The Salvation Army, and others who promise to use these funds to help Haitians are benefiting.

Facebook’s Earthquake Haiti

Facebook has been particularly useful in helping afflicted Haitians keep people informed of their plight. Yesterday afternoon some 117,000 members were part of a newly found group called Earthquake Haiti where pictures, notes, prayers, and other information is being posted. Some of those messages are truly heart-wrenching.

Am I being too harsh concerning the behavior on social websites? No, I do not believe so. These sites can be wonderful tools for good as evidenced by the $4 million in text donations received within the first 36 hours of the quake. American Airlines, JetBlue, and UPS have a momentary hassle to deal with, problems which will disappear in the days ahead.

I only wish I could say the same for the people of Haiti.

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Categories: Commentary