Archive for Flash Causes

GlobalGiving Founder on Haiti: ‘When You’re Poor, Everything Becomes Harder to Recover From’

As the incredible depth of devastation in Haiti became apparent yesterday, the response online grew rapidly. Haiti and various related topics trended all day on Twitter,blogs and websites were filled with links to nonprofits working in Haiti, and ubiquitous calls for cell phone text-to-give campaigns flooded the RSS streams. Like others, I turned to an online-based organization whose work I know and whose promise to get aid to those in need quickly – and effectively – I trusted.

GlobalGiving has been a marketplace for charitable projects since 1997 and has a history of supporting programs on health, poverty, agriculture and the environment in Haiti – and the site swung into action yesterday, working with key on-the-ground partners to rush medical supplies and emergency aid to the stricken nation. As the GlobalGiving team raced to direct resources to Haiti, I spoke briefly with Mari Kuraishi, the co-founder and president.

What’s GlobalGiving’s perspective on what Haiti faces during these terrible days?

Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, and in 2009 ranked 149th out of 182 countries according to the UN’s human development report. That’s to say that one in five Haitian children is underweight for their age and GDP per capita is $1,155—2.5% of US GDP per capita ($45,592). This is a country that is least able to recover from a natural disaster like a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. On the one hand that seems obvious. When you’re poor, everything becomes harder to recover from, because you just don’t have any slack in the system.

What do you think philanthropy’s role will be?

We don’t know the scale of the losses yet in Haiti. While it’s impossible to compare, the cost of the 1995 Kobe earthquake (a 7.3 earthquake) has been estimated at $100b in property and infrastructure damage. Human losses in Japan were 6,400 killed and 15,000 injured. The cost of recovery in Kobe? As of 2006, $3b in insurance losses, and $9b in long-term private finance to rebuild.

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Tweeting the Pandemic

The very word “pandemic” can sow panic, activating dystopian nightmares of mob rule and societal breakdown keyed to cultural memories of movies like Outbreak and 28 Days. As the swine flu epidemic kills scores of people in Mexico and leaps borders and oceans in this modern transcontinental age with alarming ease, it’s tempting to bite down hard on the urge for news and an emotional response short of mass hysteria.

And while Twitter and social networks can satisfy the hunger for information with amazing speed, it’ll be interesting to see what role they play in either feeding or tamping down societal panic. In other words, will Twitter and Facebook and all the other forms of sharing links (and fear) assist our global society in dealing with a kind of virality none of us wants to see expanded.

In the early stages of what threatens to be a major worldwide health challenge, the flow of information from my “follows” at Twitter beats any other amalgamation tool. The death toll postings, news of new outbreaks, and government warnings and policies hit my own Twitter stream faster than they do my email inbox, and from a much wider variety of sources. The #swineflu hashtag is a seriously central spigot for information – it took my, for instance, to a Google map created by “niman,” described as a biomedical researcher from Pittsburgh, which seems to be the most complete, up-to-date graphical tracker of the outbreak I can find.

But the #swineflu hashtag is also a virtual spinal tap into the core of societal fear over the kind of pandemic we’ve always been warned about – the one without a cure that jumps species and borders and threatens civil society. Spend some time the hashtag on the pandemic (of course it’s number one) and you’ll peer into that fearful “group soul” – or rather, the fearful group soul of early adopters and techno geeks. Some try to undersell the danger, with playful (hopeful?) references to “hangnails” and government over-reaction and having a good excuse to skip work. But I also sense in some of the joking a rather wishful urge for gallows humor, as if a few good tweets can make it all go away. “More people are currently sick from eating bad alfalfa sprouts than from the #swineflu,” is one such tweet. And yet the WHO and the White House and the EU aren’t freaked out about alfalfa sprouts.

Yet others are far more serious, and the near-instant access to statistics and information about the epidemic clearly forces what is already a well-informed crowd to pay attention to seriously dark news. Here’s one such tweet: “up to 149 deaths in mexico city from #swineflu. That’s .09% fatality. But geez. Its going up so fast! Last nite was .05% fatality.”

One aspect of this pandemic-related information flow is crystal clear – in times of crisis, people turn to their governments for guidance and assistance. The US government’s PandemicFlu site is cited in hundreds of Twitter posts, blog posts, and Facebook feeds and clearly, some wired civil servants are working overtime to keep the official view as up to date as possible.

Clearly, we don’t yet know how bad this pandemic will be – and pandemic it is, with news of cases in Scotland and Spain to go along with Mexico, the U.S and Canada – but I for one find some comfort in a personalized flow of information that didn’t exist a few years ago. After the disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the San Diego wildfires (among others) it became clear that online networks would carry more of the societal weight during times of crisis, that they hold the potential for drawing citizens together to help. This is a new kind of crisis an along with the health warnings and news, we’ll be following the performance of social media in providing information … and in calming fear.

UPDATE: Via Andy Carvin, here’s Wikia’s flu wiki, by Jimmy Wales.

UPDATE II: The Google map has real accuracy problems, and wasn’t created by the Google team. I posted on it @techPresident.

Victorian Bushfires: Online Organizing for Relief

The photos and video are simply horrible to contemplate: vast firestorms sweeping entire towns from the Australian map, the flames trapping fleeing victims in their cares as they race from a scene of death and destruction. More than 160 are dead with the death toll likely to rise, and many thousands are homeless, many without food and water.

Online, the Victorian fires have quickly become a “flash cause,” spurring action from bloggers and Twitter mavens in Australia and around the world. On Facebook, several group have already attracted thousands of members, combining news updates with fundraising and expressions of concern and horror. Most of the online fundraising I’ve seen so far points donors to the Victoria unit of the Australian Red Cross, which is clearly in need of money and supplies to aid victims and the homeless.

Meanwhile, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is running a long blog post with literally hundreds of offers from Austrailians to open their homes to to those who have lost theirs in the bushfires. Following the #bushfires tag on Twitter brings in news updates – including the suspicion that the fires were deliberately set – as well as offers of aid and assistance. And then there are Tweets like this one:

Just found out someone I have know for many years died with her husband in the #bushfires at Steeles Creek. Numb.

The fires are being called Australia’s worst natural disaster. Over at GlobalVoices, blogger Kevin Rennie has an ongoing post with some very moving stories.

A Happy ‘TweetsGiving’

CauseWired readers know that I really like “flash causes,” quick and nearly instant efforts to organize, activate, raise money and gather attention online. So I’m really enjoying the rapid roll-out of a nifty little Thanksgiving campaign on Twitter and the web.

The folks at EpicChange.org and my friend Avi Kaplan have launched TweetsGiving, a Twitter-based effort to “demonstrate the power of the social web by raising $10,000 in 48 hours to build a classroom in Tanzania.”

The premise is simple: use Twitter to say what you’re thankful for and use the #tweetsgiving hash tag. Encourage others to do the same thing. Link as much as possible to the TweetsGiving page and get folks to give a little money via a ChipIn widget. That’s it.

I spoke to Avi about the mini-campaign two nights ago, and already it’s sweeping Twitter – and more than $3,100 has been raised. That’s very cool (to use the technical term).

So as you polish off that second piece of pumpkin pie this long holiday weekend and glance at your iPhone or laptop, hit that #tweetsgiving tag on Twitter and give a little virtual thanks.

Let me see, I’m thankful for my readers, for my publisher, for my commenters, for my reviewers….

Post-Obama Organizing? It’s Already in the Streets

Understandably, there’s been a lot of discussion in the last two weeks about the future of the powerful Obama Internet operation. Does the vast, empowered constituency serve as a virtual public advocacy campaign for Obama policy initiatives? Does it work toward the mid-terms in 2010? Re-election in 2012?

Or does it inspire a “flash cause” that puts tens of thousands of people into the streets in outraged protest less than two weeks after the election in what is a clear sign that what the Obama campaign unleashed in online organizing is just the start.

Based on the incredible success of JointheImpact.com, which channeled anger over California’s passage of the anti-gay Proposition 8 into an instant same-sex marriage advocacy organization that put the old line gay rights groups to shame, we’re voting for the latter.

Built on the WetPaint platform, using Twitter and other social networks, and boasting local organizing groups in every state, JointheImpact generated massive media attention and built itself into an action-oriented campaign that brought tens of thousands of people to mass rallies. The group combined a strong political message at the top with the tools other participants needed to organize themselves.

Here’s how Reuters covered the story:

Amy Balliett, 26, used her lunch break last Friday to start a website — http://www.jointheimpact.com — to call for coordinated action across the United States this weekend.

In a few days, more than 1 million people have visited her site and dozens of marches and meetings are now planned for 1:30 p.m. EST (1830 GMT) on Saturday.

By the evening jointheimpact.com was created, it was visited 10,000 times. By Sunday, there were 50,000 visits per hour and the computer running the site crashed. It has moved computers twice since in an effort to keep up.

“Why do we have to wait for someone to step up and say let’s do a protest?” Balliett remembered thinking after her friend, Willow Witte, posted a blog about California. “Over email we decided to do it.”

Now that’s online organizing. Genie. Bottle. Not gonna happen.

Not So Fast! Election Day Monitoring Goes Mobile

Just three weeks ago, social networking gurus Nancy Scola and Allison Fine of techPresident and the Personal Democracy Forum tossed out a big idea: why not use mobile technology and the kind of short-messaging techniques capturing hearts and minds among the digerati to help keep track of irregularities on Election Day. Here’s how they put it:

We know. It sounds ridiculous at first. But it might not be as crazy as you think.

Why not? Well, here’s what we’re thinking. We all know that American elections can be messy affairs. As longtime online organizer Jon Pincus recently noted, “voter suppression relies to a large extent on information asymmetry.” That imbalance, if not corrected for, can create just enough hoops that discourage all but the most motivated among us from jumping through them on our way to voting. From voter caging to misleading fliers to faulty machinery to the long waits exacerbated by poorly trained poll workers, it’s often a lack of knowing that jams up the process.

And for far too long, the job of election protection has fallen largely to lawyers schooled in election law. But there’s an opportunity before us right now and through Election Day for thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of citizens to identify and rectify voting problems in real time.

Not so crazy, as it turns out. The idea had wings and with some intense work and creative organizing (I’ve been watching some of this unfold, not so ironically, on Twitter) the duo has a network in place to track problems at the polls around the country via cell phones and Twitter. it’s really great work, a real “flash cause” that came together because of the energy and vision of a couple of people and the power of the network. So without further ado, here’s the public service announcement portion of this post – and by all means, reblog it, Twitter it, spread it around:

A large number of groups working on voter outreach and protection efforts have joined this effort.  They include: the 866-OUR-VOTE (The Election Protection Coalition), Rock the Vote, Credo Mobile, Common Cause, Plodt.com, YouTube, twittervision.com, NPR’s Social Media Desk, Independence Year Foundation, Center for Community Change, Student PIRGs, PBS, Women Donors Network, and Demos.

And now we need everyone’s help to get the word out — this effort will only work if lots of people are using the system.  So, here’s how it works:

If you currently use Twitter, send a message after you vote that begins with #votereport (this is critically important for ensuring that your message gets to the right place.)  Then write some or all of the following:

#[zip code] to indicate where you’re voting; ex., “#12345″
#machine for machine problems; ex., “#machine broken, using prov. ballot”
#reg for registration troubles; ex., “#reg I wasn’t on the rolls”
#wait:minutes for long lines; ex., “#wait:120 and I’m coming back later”
#good or #bad to give a quick sense of your overall experience
#EP+your state if you have a serious problem and need help from the Election Protection coalition; ex., #EPOH
If you don’t use Twitter and want to go to http://www.twitter.com, sign up then follow the directions above.

If you want to participate by cellphone but don’t want to use Twitter, you can:

Send a text message to 66937 that begins with “#votereport”
Key in a report by calling (567) 258-VOTE/8683
Download and use the iPhone app (coming soon)
Please participate — we need lots and lots of voices heard on Election Day!

That’s it — let’s go and “tweet” this election!

When News Becomes the Cause: Twitter and the LA Shake

One of the chapters in CauseWired is about instant organizing campaigns, or “flash causes,” as I’ve called them. The biggest story in that chapter covers the wildfires in southern California last year and the work of blogger Nate Ritter in spreading good information in a time of public uncertainty and no small amount of panic. Tuesday’s earthquake near Los Angeles was another reminder of how media technology and social networks can fill the gaps in traditional media, and actually help people by spreading reliable information. Blogger MG Siegler said it well at VentureBeat:

When natural disasters strike, people want news ASAP. Twitter is simply very fast at disseminating information. We saw this when a large 7.8 earthquake struck China back in May and we’re seeing it again today. Today, it was especially true when used in conjunction with the social conversation and aggregation site FriendFeed. Minutes after the quake, I had various accounts of it and maps of its epicenter.

Professional news operations can move quickly; but semi-pro’s and amateurs are faster, and they’re using the tools of the whole network. The challenge, I think, is getting that information beyond the cadre of super-wired, always-on, early adopters and out to millions of not-so-techie folks during an emergency. Still, you can’t argue with the speed. From a post by Biz Stone on the Twitter blog, check out this chart showing the surge in quake-related posts on Tuesday:

Clearly, Twitter users were ahead of the local TV stations in getting the word out: news spiked at the one-minute mark, post-rumble. Wrote Stone: “Twitter is increasingly being described as a personal news-wire—shared world events like this morning’s earthquake near Los Angeles support the definition.”

More coverage:

Los Angeles earthquake chokes phone calls, not Twitter

Stop Trusting the Internet! [ie, beware of fakes]