Facebook Takes on Haiti Relief

In the largest effort to date to provide information on a major news event, Facebook has tried to mobilize users–often derided as “slacktivists“–to focus on Haiti relief efforts and has gotten some star power to help out.

Through its Global Disaster Relief fanpage, Facebook has spent the last week creating a portal of information on the Haiti disaster and recruited former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to make videos that specifically mentioned Facebook’s efforts.  The videos are classic Bill and George, but the real coup may have been in getting them to specifically mention Facebook’s efforts as they talked about the Clinton Global Initiative and the Clinton/Bush Haiti Fund.

While the company is not disclosing how many hits/impressions the videos and fan page is getting, Facebook’s Andrew Noyes told Mediaite that “we’ve heard numerous reports from media, nonprofits and individual users about how Facebook has been a lifeline for the relief effort over the past week.” The effort is a coordination between Facebook’s new Washington, D.C. office and people at Facebook HQ in Palo Alto, Calif.

In the week since the first earthquake, the fan page has gained over 146,500 fans and continues to add thousands a day. Two other related fan pages–for Clinton and for the Clinton/Bush Haiti Fund–have over 283,770 fans and 13,500 fans respectively. While the fan page is not meant to be a fundraising tool, the tool Causes has raised over $400,000 for a number of non-profits doing disaster relief in Haiti, including Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders, World Vision, Friends of the UN World Food Program, Compassion International, CARE and the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.

In addition to the former presidents, Facebook has also worked with Download to Donate for Haiti and uploaded a video by the band Linkin Park and Noyes, who heads public policy communications in Washington, D.C., says more videos are expected.  While the current efforts are focused on in Haiti, Noyes said that the fan page would remain active and used for the company’s future efforts as other global disasters occur. 

The uncertainty in any effort like this is whether providing information to people through Facebook or some other social media will result in action or greater education.  As Denis Hurley said last week in a Mediaite column, “[a] common criticism of Facebook is that the information shared is little more than a link to a cat playing a keyboard, but as we’ve seen these past few days, it can also be put to good use.”

Facebook has tapped into the power of its 350 million active users by directing attention to global relief, a significant evolution in Facebook’s mission.  While the fan page numbers may seem like a drop in the bucket, Facebook’s messaging tends to be viral and information doesn’t stay limited to just members of fan pages.



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