Social Media Responds to Chile’s Earthquake: We Can Help



As Chilean and international rescue forces work through the rubble cause by the massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake that hit near Concepcion, Chile’s second-largest city, users of social media the world over have undertaken their own rescue measures. Twitter, Facebook, and several of Google’s properties aren’t trivial, now. They’re life-saving, informational tools. An eye-rolling bit of gossip about one of those Kardashian girls can explode through the Web in minutes–and now, news about those in Chile is traveling over the same digital pathways, with the same speed, reaching the same vast amount of people. These are a few ways social media is being used in the wake of the quake.

Google Person Finder

Google’s Person Finder app was also used after Haiti’s earthquake just six weeks ago, and it’s just as phenomenal a tool for those seeking (or providing) information about those at risk in Chile’s. It’s a very simple, bi-lingual tool, with two buttons: “I’m looking for someone” and “I have information about someone.” All information is entered into a central database, now consisting of over 22,000 records, that’s searched by name. It’s even embeddable–here, look.

The information isn’t verified, but it’s still a great, to-the-minute reference point for those seeking information about people who can’t be reached by other means. With over 700 reported dead (and counting), the authorities have their hands full; official records aren’t necessarily better than a quick Google update from somebody who saw your aunt, cousin, or friend walking safe out of a rescue center.

Google Maps Layers

The My Maps feature in Google Maps allows for custom-made layers showing specific results. I’m mostly familiar with it as a means to find, say, non-Starbucks coffeeshops in a given area, but now it’s been put to more noble use as well. Paniko’s Open Shops layer, for example, shows the locations of markets still operating, an invaluable service–especially since many of the larger markets are closed, leading to looting by hungry survivors. Google Maps Mania put together a list of a few other like-minded Maps tools, usually for those wanting to keep track of news updates in Chile. Some track real-time tweets, some monitor local news, and some show the geological effects of the earthquake. Check out the list here.


Google has also created a map decked out with constantly-updating information from the U.S. Geological Survey, showing the locations and magnitudes of both the initial quake and the aftershocks. Those aftershocks are sometimes huge, brutal quakes in themselves, breaking the 6.0 barrier a few times.

Twitter Smoke Signals

Twitter is a great tool for getting minute, vital bits of information disseminated quickly, whether it’s “GRAH I can’t believe USA hockey lost the gold! #olympics” or “We’re in Concepcion, everyone’s okay.” Twitter can be updated from any cell phone via text message, making it more accessible than Facebook or email in some cases; not everyone has access to a smartphone or computer, especially in moments like this.

Several different hashtags are being used as repositories of information, including #chile, #chilequake, and #terremotochile, and organizations like the Chilean Red Cross are issuing news updates via Twitter. Interestingly, Google Person Finder creates a link to a specific person’s entry, and Twitter seems to be one of the main ways those links are getting disseminated.

(Sort of, not really) fun little tidbit: American Idol finalist Elliott Yamin was in Chile when the quakes hit, and livetweeted his reactions. Yeah, I don’t know who he is, either, but that’s probably of interest to someone. He’s fine, just in case you were worried.


Facebook Pages

Chile-related Facebook pages have been popping up left and right, some merely voicing support, some designed to help users donate to disaster relief, and some as communities where users can share information and news about the earthquake and those in the danger zone. Chile Earthquake, for example, has over 10,000 users and is chock full of informational links and, lately, warnings about the tsunamis triggered by the earthquake, reaching as far as Hawaii and other Pacific islands. Global Disaster Relief’s Facebook page is serving as the go-to resource for information for many, with well over 300,000 users.

Despite a population of only 16.7 million (as a reference, California has 36.7 million and New York has 19.5 million), Chileans are extremely active on Facebook–the country ranks fifth in the world in total users despite its relatively small population. The only reason Facebook isn’t the unabashed center of the social networking response is simple: Internet services are mostly out, even in Santiago (the capital and largest city). But it’s still a valuable resource; even Alex Geiger, chief of San Francisco’s Chilean Consulate, contacted his daughters (both living in Chile) with Facebook.

UStream’s Livestream

Chile’s ISP infrastructure may be sketchy, but UStream, a service which lets users stream live video, has delivered 4.35 million streams related to the Chilean earthquake. There’s a quick example over at Mashable, but essentially users are both updating the world on the happenings in Chile and reassuring loved ones that they’re okay. Apparently many of the streams were delivered via cell phone cameras on location in Chile, since the mobile networks seem to be holding up better than the wired ones. It’s the most impressive of the information-sharing options: live video, streamed on the scene. Amazing stuff.

How to Help


As with Haiti’s earthquake, some of the best and easiest ways to donate are online. Google’s relief page has easy-to-use links to donate to UNICEF, Direct Relief International, the Chilean Red Cross, and others, but you can also donate $10 via SMS text using these codes and numbers. Note: these are all U.S.-only.

  • SMS text “CHILE” to 25383 to donate $10 to Habitat for Humanity
  • SMS text “CHILE” to 20222 to donate $10 to World Vision
  • SMS text “REBUILD” to 50555 to donate $10 to Operation USA
  • SMS text “YOUTH” to 20222 to donate $10 to UNICEF

About the author

Dan Nosowitz is a freelance writer and editor who has written for Popular Science, The Awl, Gizmodo, Fast Company, BuzzFeed, and elsewhere. He holds an undergraduate degree from McGill University and currently lives in Brooklyn, because he has a beard and glasses and that's the law