Twitter provides a conduit for news from quake-devastated Haiti

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SAN JOSE
— Pushing the velocity of bad news to new highs, Twitter continued
Wednesday to connect the world with the devastating earthquake in Haiti,
translating the tragedy into 140-character cries of desperation, broken
sentences of solidarity and links to photographs too heartbreaking for
words.

“WE NEED HELPPPPPPPPPPPP!!!!!!!” was one of the first tweets reportedly sent by Haitian TV host Carel Pedre after his nation was hit by a 7.0 quake Tuesday afternoon.

In the moments and hours that followed, Twitter once
again became the global go-to channel for eyewitness reports, this time
on the devastation in the capital of Port-au-Prince. Just as significant, it also became a digital concourse for those around the world hoping to help.

One example: After tapping the microblogging site
early Wednesday to show people how they could contribute to aid relief
through a simple cell phone text, the American Red Cross had raised $800,000 by midafternoon. Silicon Valley spokeswoman Cynthia Shaw said the Red Cross had tested out Twitter fundraising two years ago during Southern California’s wildfires, “but this really is the first time we’ve put it into effect this broadly, and the results have been amazing.”

Hours before most traditional news gatherers had arrived in Haiti to document the tragedy, citizen tweets were flying from Haitians’ cell phones and over Internet sites like Skype,
in spite of the nation’s bare-bones communications infrastructure.
Photos of the dead and injured, along with the collapsed buildings that
entombed them, flooded sites like TweetPhoto and Twitpic.

And around the globe, strangers weighed in with
promises of financial support and impromptu prayers compressed into
Haiku-like passages that could fit on a cocktail napkin.

“We are not as disconnected as we might think we are,” said Palo Alto, Calif., entrepreneur and avid tweeter Larry Chiang, who said the quake hit a Twitter nerve because it was such a cataclysmic event.

“When that happens, people want to observe and participate,” he said.

“Social media allows them to come to the aid of people struck by tragedy. It’s what a community does.”

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