Voluntweeters: Self-Organized Volunteers following the Haiti Earthquake

Similarly to the crowdsourcing efforts we studied using Open Street Maps during the 2010 Haiti Earthquake, social media and  Twitter were utilized in self-organization in the same disaster setting pertaining to digital volunteers. The development of a Tweak the Tweet (TtT) syntax was effective in creating a universal language for those helping with these efforts. The website allowed any Tweeter to transform their information into the TfT syntax, thus creating “translators” that transformed unstructured essential information into understandable data. Th4 volunteers were not mandated by any one company, but came out organically through the Twitter world. Using specialized TtT hashtags such as #need or #offer, allowed tweets pertaining to this effort to be easily identifiable, allowing the information to be shown in an ongoing feed.

Many of these translator volunteers had personal connections with Haiti, others felt the need to be active in the relief efforts, if even from afar. The platform for Twitter made it easier for this emergent group to connect, interact and self-organize. Hashtags make the filtering of information especially simple through Twitter. The article cites that a few of the volunteers decided to use the hashtag #rescuemehaiti. In this way, they were able to contact those in need of help, asking them to use this tag for aid requests. The tag was able to catch on quickly, making it an effective communication skill between those on the ground and the volunteers, who thus were in contact with direct relief efforts.

The idea of “crisis tweeting” allows for quick and vital information to be relayed from both sides. Hashtags make this idea especially useful in its ability to organize and view items with similar relationships. The speed and brevity of Twitter (140 characters or less) allows for information to be communicated as it is happening and thus aid to be allocated as the information rolls in.

The use of ICTs in relief efforts cannot be undermined: through social media’s far-reaching scope, information in a disaster is disseminated through different channels, allowing help to arrive more quickly and resources to be better dispersed.

Read the full study here.



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