Tuesday, January 12, 2010 is a date that, literally, shook modern history. A 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the Caribbean nation of Haiti and left its capitol of Port-au-Prince largely in ruins. Haiti, which is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, will need international aid to rebuild its struggling country from scratch. Described as a “post-apocalyptic film set,” Haiti presents a scene of hunger, homelessness, looting, and an unresponsive, invisible government. With the president largely silent on any future course of action, Haitians feel abandoned and are desperately seeking aid.

The world has unselfishly answered this call for help by setting up donation mechanisms via electronic means, such as text messaging. The four major wireless carriers–Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile–have partnered with the Mobile Giving Foundation to coordinate the text messaging donation program. As of Monday, January 18, 2010, more than $19 million has been pledged to the American Red Cross alone, with donations also going to other charitable organizations. This is a great, easy fundraising program since almost everyone in the U.S. has a cell phone these days. However, the problem lies when circulating messages, claiming to help the victims in Haiti, are in fact fraudulent and misleading.

Facebook, a popular social networking site amongst teens and adults alike, has experienced such misleading behavior. “Fake fundraising efforts for the Haiti disaster are spreading like wildfire on Facebook. Dozens of fan pages have been set up, urging users to join and promising a $1 donation for each member. One group [over the January 16-17, 2010 weekend] attracted 1.5 million members before it was disabled.” I honestly do not understand why someone would want to create a fake Facebook page during this time of emergency. This is a time where all people, regardless of race, gender, religion, national origin, or sexual orientation, should come together and help our fellow mankind. This is not a time to divert needed funds from the Haiti relief effort or serve other superfluous, individualistic desires, such as trying to get 1 million people to become a fan of a Facebook page. In the past, the Haitian government has been charged with corruption. There does not need to be corruption in Haiti’s relief efforts if we are quickly trying to save these victims.

BlackBerry users have also received fundraising spam messages. The message reads: “Because of what has transpired in Haiti recently, Blackberry [sic] has decided to help out and give 35 cents for the cause when you pass this message along to your friends on BBM [BlackBerry Messenger].” This message is misleading because, although BlackBerry plans to contribute to the relief effort, BBM messages are not charged a transactional fee. So, BlackBerry will NOT give 35 cents for every message that you forward. If you have forwarded this message, it has been in vain.

As with every invention of mankind, electronic technology has its good attributes and bad attributes. The great thing about Facebook and cell phones is that messages can be quickly translated to a global audience. The bad thing about it is its ability to be abused. Out of every tragedy is an opportunity to be fraudulent, misleading, and selfishly advantageous.

I have never heard of so much money raised through text messaging donations. I truly believe it is a great way to act swiftly. However, when spammers and hackers exploit the use of technology to make a quick buck, the fundraising efforts are slowed down because altruistic individuals may not be certain if particular text message donation centers are valid.

I advocate that we continue to use modern technology, such as cell phones and social networking sites, to spread the message about the relief effort in Haiti. Nevertheless, before you give your money or personal information, make sure the donation center is legitimate! Think of this short saying before you donate: “Before you hit SUBMIT, make sure it’s LEGIT!”

Yoshana B. Jones

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