I have a love-hate relationship with Twitter as I’m sure we all do. As a tool for imparting news it’s great, even when the news is scary and heartbreaking.
A crisis like the earthquakes in Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas is particularly scary. When a disaster is an act of nature and not man, that means there’s no one, on the surface, to blame. Once you consider the area affected has suffered from a severe lack of economic growth among other things, it becomes more complicated. There’s always someone to whom you can direct your anger and frustration.
When the story broke, many users in my timeline tweeted and re-tweeted late-breaking news, donation links, prayers and more. This is part of what makes a platform like Twitter invaluable. Unfortunately, this comes with something I like to call “Twitter-shaming.” This happens whenever there’s a huge news story, typically of the political nature, and concerned users take umbrage with others that aren’t tweeting as passionately about the topic as they are. They are angry that the trending topics do not reflect the real news of the world. They demand why the people they follow are talking about other, more frivolous, things. They need to feel secure that the world is a charitable, compassionate and informed place and are using Twitter to gauge that.
A lot of this came in the form of users re-tweeting and referencing a message by Wyclef at blitzkreig speed, in which he told people where they could donate $5 to the earthquake fund via SMS. “I donated. Did you?” There’s no way to know who actually donated based on those tweets, but more than that, there’s no way to determine that someone doesn’t give a damn simply because they aren’t talking about it. Another popular question was why it took an earthquake for anyone to care for the people of Haiti.
This problem isn’t unique to Twitter; you’ll find people demanding all sorts of action and updates from websites that are silent on certain topics, either by default or design. “Why are you blogging about this when this is going on in the world? Don’t you think this is more important?”
Yes, what’s going on in Haiti is important, and it’s very easy to help. Unfortunately my jacked up service plan won’t allow me to make donations via text message, so I went to Yele Haiti and donated with my credit card. I didn’t do it because I have something to prove or because I was Twitter-shamed. I did it because up until a few days ago I wouldn’t have been able to and know what it’s like to be in need of help.
The point of all this is that finger-wagging is counterintuitive to charity and compassion. It isn’t necessary for an act of loving kindness, even if it’s just concern and prayer, to be accompanied with righteousness in order for it to work. You show your concern by sharing the information, doing your part to help and not allowing yourself to become judgmental when it appears others don’t care. Maybe they do care and simply don’t feel the need to shout it from the rooftops.
Yele Haiti Earthquake Fund