A Guest Post from Haiti

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

We had the opportunity to meet Luke Renner in person not too long ago. He shared his story with us about being an American expat in Haiti and witnessing the devastation of the quake this year. Luke runs the Carribean Institute of Media Technology there where he educates the community about modern technologies. Below is his inspiring story, in his own words.

Twitter In Haiti

On January 12, 2010, the day of Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake, at 4:53 PM, when our house began to shudder around us along the Northern coast of Haiti, Twitter entered back into our lives in a radical way. In that moment, when all of Haiti’s phones were instantly taken offline and communication with others was brought to a standstill, it was my dormant Twitter account that connected our organization to the outside world and ushered in a fundamental change in the way that we operate.

In those first moments, the job was simply to find out what was going on, to place ourselves within the greater context of events, and get a grasp on what was at stake. Twitter proved to be the only way to do this quickly and comprehensively. Beyond just sending and receiving emails within our own circles, we were now using Twitter to communicate with a broad range of people we had never met, each offering more clarity and form to what would otherwise have been sheer madness.

Informing The Narrative

After finding our place within the evolving narrative, we began adding our own experiences from the ground. By morning, I had talked with @AnnCurry on the phone, distributed some of the first video from Haiti, and had given countless interviews to a number of major International news agencies, each from the links we had distributed via Twitter. For no other reason than our connection to Twitter, we were providing information to a world that was hungry to engage.

To date, I have personally participated in and witnessed numerous exchanges on Twitter that have undoubtedly led to the extension of time, opportunity, quality of life, and (I believe) life itself for those on the receiving end in Haiti. The education that I received in my months of tweeting taught me that personal experience is required in order to fully appreciate the way Twitter connects and mobilizes people across the limitations of pre-formed networks.

“Small Change” is all it takes

Twitter truly is a great leveler. Consider the words of Sylove Jean (@cimtlove), a Haitian student at The Caribbean Institute of Media Technologies, as she speaks to the entire world before her own President did in a news clip that we posted to Twitter on January 12, 2010 (subsequently picked up by most of the major news networks). Sylove talks more about her experiences with Twitter here.

Such implications are game changing.

Today, Twitter’s field of players continues to evolve, moving forward toward a more informed, better positioned, and increasingly diverse body of contributors. Most recently, I was thrilled to see the vast difference between those tweeting about Haiti’s recent cholera outbreak from those who were tweeting after the earthquake.

To follow the #Haiti conversation today, it is immediately evident to me that Haitians have embraced Twitter and are using it to personally engage problems in a way that we didn’t see after the earthquake. I smiled with appreciation as I watched the way cholera situation was assessed, reported, and actively engaged by Haitians on the ground. Even @CharlesHBaker, a hopeful Haitian Presidential candidate, was using his Twitter voice to combat the problem.

Does Twitter save lives?

It’s a popular question but a poorly crafted one. The answer is both “yes” and “no.” In all of my time moving through the epicenter after the disaster, Twitter never once handed someone a bottle of water, a plate of food, or any life-saving medicine. Twitter was not standing there when baby Landina was reunited with her mother after a 6-month separation. Twitter did not deliver tents or chop away at the piles of concrete.

What Twitter did do was rapidly connect people from drastically different walks of life, perfectstrangers with incredibly diverse experience, capabilities, and resources, all actively pursuing meaningful relationships and networks outside of the ones they already had. And it was precisely those connections that gave birth to the kinds of exchanges that inevitably and repeatedly materialized into life-saving results (like bottles of water, food, medical attention, and other practical advances). Albeit simple, our YouTube channel offers an example of one such exchange.

Twitter repeatedly served as the catalyst that launched potential energy into kinetic action and transformed the common person into a powerhouse of positive social change. The potential to affect policy, incite action, motivate systematic change, and drive progress is fundamental to Twitter’s design, with even greater surprises that likely await us. Those who say otherwise simply don’t understand, while those who know best are busy doing the work and leading the way toward the betterment of society. I was once a member of the former group, a critic and non-believer. After Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake, I cannot express my newfound need for Twitter strongly enough. Whereas I once was blind, now I see; the revolution is being tweeted.

Luke Renner