Some thoughts about Haiti, fundraising and social media – and why there’s nothing to be euphoric about

In the last few days, I have seen quite a lot of articles talking about how great social media is for fundraising. All this related to the terrible earth quake in Haiti, of course.

I think these posts came way too early. You shouldn’t write meta on the first day of the relief efforts. Plus, there is no surprise in the fact that yes, social media is great for fundraising. Don’t get me wrong: I am in full support of those people who are using Facebook, Twitter and the rest of the net to collect donations, though I share Felix Salmon’s concerns that “throwing money at the issue” might not be the best solution for Haiti.

What I am criticizing is the euphoria of certain cyber-utopians who are now praising social media. You wouldn’t praise the town square because you can go there and ask people for donations, would you? Twitter and Facebook are nothing different: Virtual places you visit to converse. It’s not by chance that one of the early forms of “social” media on the web was called “forum”, just like the places where Romans went in ancient times to converse.

Currently, the social web doesn’t change anything about fundraising. Money still flows from the same pockets to the same NGOs as before. That’s exactly what these organizations want. But there’s no reason to be all euphoric about this.

There are indeed things related to the social web’s role in humanitarian relief that ought to be written about, such as the CrisisCamps taking place in several cities of the US. What Ushahidi and the OpenStreetMap community are doing is simply amazing. From a social media point of view, we should not miss these efforts just because the Red Cross is doing what it has always done – fundraising.

You might also want to read this interview with Patrick Meier on Ushahidi’s response to the Haiti earth quake, and German readers may be interested in my articles about this issue for netzpolitik.org and gulli:news.

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