In the wake of the disaster in Haiti, Facebook's launched a portal for people who want to help: The Global Relief page. Twitter's playing its part too. Superficially frivolous social networks driving social responsibility--who'd've thought it?
Facebook's own non-profits manager Randi Zuckerberg announced the initiative on Facebook's blog, noting that the "Internet's critical role in connecting the world's population in times of tragedy" is undeniable, and could be a valuable tool for good. To exactly this end, Facebook's new Global Relief page is a fan-style Facebook page that is designed to be a central information portal about disasters.
But the service is actually intended to be much more than that: It's supposed to be a "collaborative resource for individuals, non-profits, governments and industry to raise awareness for those in need around the world." In effect, Facebook is setting itself up as a central point for debate, plans, personal donations, and relief effort coordination at all levels from members of the public to governments. Its status update, chat and micropayment systems would seem ideally suited to support all of these aims, and Facebook notes that the charitable efforts of some organizations have already raised "hundreds of thousands" of dollars for Haiti disaster relief efforts.
And though Twitter doesn't have the level of sophisticated user tools that Facebook does, it benefits from its easy one-to-many transmission system and the simplicity of its short Tweets--creating a perfect venue for pithy and emotive pleas for help, and news and personal opinions about disasters. The lifecasting service practically filled up with Tweets about Haiti over the last day or so--everything from requests for assistance, links to charity organizations and moving personal stories from the island itself. Twitter as an organization needs to do almost nothing to assist in this--though it's worth noting that the company is aware of its vital role, and even delayed a planned server upgrade during the Iran protests so as not to disrupt the efforts of Twittering protestors. Biz Stone has, nevertheless, gathered together some links in a blog post that illustrate some ways the public can help.
And since Monday is Martin Luther King day, Twitter's actually taking some direct action to promote the efforts of the Corporation For National Community service--its promoting the same sort of charitable assistance that Facebook is, but directed at finding volunteer assistance in local communities. Twitter's blog post acknowledges that its users are making the most of Twitter, and that "on an international level this week, people are joining forces to heal Haiti. Together, we're proving that we're wired to help."
Both of these efforts are symbols of two things: That a community can mobilize itself very quickly to help others in trouble, even if they are remote from the scene--the Internet is a fabulous medium to assist in this. And it also shows that the social network crazes that sometimes appear frivolous and even time-wasting actually can be used as a force for good. All that's required is a decision to act among its userbase.