You Can Help a UN Citizen Ambassador in Haiti

Editor’s note: All of us in the PopTech community can help by spreading the word about this Twitter campaign with specific syntactic conventions. Emily will be in touch as she heads back to Haiti; see her photo essay from Haiti in December 2009 here.

Just two weeks ago, I returned from a month-long trip to Haiti, taking photos and documenting the serious humanitarian crisis. (More about my journey is here.) I couldn’t have imagined that the friends I made and happy children I photographed in the streets would soon be in peril, or dead.

Haiti children
Photo by Emily Troutman

Now, I am about to head back, working as a photojournalist and writer, but I need your help, PopTech readers, as I try to make a difference — using the internet — to find peoples’ loved ones lost in the wreckage.

Throughout this catastrophe, the Twittersphere has been my primary source of information coming out of Haiti because phone service has been down, but internet is working. Twitter is especially being used by people who were desperate, like me, to find out if their friends and family are alive. People send dozens of tweets in every direction with their families’ names.

They also search Twitter for the names of their friends, neighborhoods, streets, etc. Unfortunately, as we all know, search.twitter.com is a horrible way to really drill down and filter information, both because of the volume of tweets and the mix of content. Lists are also clumsy, user-driven and random.

Project EPIC (Empowering People in Crisis) has come up with a brilliant plan to teach people how to “Tweak the Tweet,” a smart tagging system for listing to track and sort Haitians who are lost, dead, injured, missing or alive.

Right now, people are simply re-Tweeting names and other peoples’ desperate cries to find loved ones. Many people are asking me to find their families through e-mails and Facebook. But when I get to Haiti, the bandwidth will be very low and opening Facebook pages and e-mail will be burdensome.

If you want to help make a difference, I propose the ultimate re-tweeting:

Everyone should go on Twitter, Facebook, and other walls for lost loved ones in Haiti, and rewrite calls for information and updates in the format proposed by EPIC.

Here’s an example of a descriptive tweet with specific hashtags:

#haiti #imok #name John Doe #loc Mirebalais Shelter #status minor injuries

A quick suggestion: so that there is less duplication of effort, people could commit to ONLY rewriting the names of people whose first initial is the same as theirs.

My promise: When I am in Haiti, I will make every effort to visit Twitter and look for the names of people missing when I travel the city’s neighborhoods. I will tell you what I find, and I will show you how you’ve healed Haiti from your homes.

Let’s show the world what technology can do.

Be in touch: @emilytroutman, UN Citizen Ambassador

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