Facebook in Haiti

haitiIt has often been said of new innovations that they are technology in search of an application.  You can make what looks like a breakthrough but actually has no practical use.

This is one case where the opposite has turned out to be the case. Social networking is so natural, and so much a way of life for many people, that the technology sometimes struggles to keep up.

There’s a rather poignant example of that from the Haiti earthquake.   For all the destruction to the infrastructure Haiti citizens are keeping in touch with the rest of the world via Facebook.

One woman posted heart-wrenching messages about pulling people from the rubble, and was clearly so much in touch with what was happening that people in the US and elsewhere who had friends and relatives in Haiti bombarded her with requests for information. That triggered Facebook’s spam filter and the account was temporarily disabled, which turns out to have happened to many other users in Haiti as well.

The site clearly can’t keep up, although be fair, it probably never have envisaged usage of this type and this scale. When pressed, the site’s spokesman said this might happen in ‘rare cases’ and that it would now screen messages for the word ‘Haiti’ and allow them to pass the spam filters.  I wonder if this has happened in other contexts, and how easy or difficult it will be to adjust automated systems to cope with it.

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