Beware of Twitter Memes; How To Really Help Haiti

Update 11.20 am:
CNN: Twitter hoax spreads rumors of airlines’ free flights to Haiti
Oh, the “UPS is shipping packages free” meme is also a hoax

Update 12.57 am:
Silly me. I went to the American Airlines website looking for info, but it did not occur to me to check out American’s twitter feed. There it is, from @AAirwaves (like I would have ever guessed that handle):  Cannot fly individual drs/nurses to #haiti, working w/ Red Cross & other agencies 2 provide aid. Donate http://bit.ly/4zOgi0

Update 12.40 am:
I feel like I’m driving down the highway, mesmerized by a train wreck. I want to turn away, but I can’t stop. Yet another reporter fell for the meme: Roger Ebert (38,044 followers, ~6 pm Pacific).

Update 12.22 am:
Groan – Pierre Andre Garcon (Indianopolis Colts, 3,923 followers, ~6 pm) and Meghan McCain (78,890 followers, ~7 pm Pacific)

Update 12.17 am:
Yet-another-reporter passed along the meme without verifying: Adam Schefter, “ESPN NFL Insider” (81,411 followers, ~7 pm Pacific)

Update 11.57 pm:
Discovered that Jennifer Preston, NYT social media editor, apparently did not verify first and passed along the false meme:

Original Post, 11.42 pm:
Is American Airlines really “taking doctors and nurses to Haiti for free“? What do you think will happen if you call 212-697-9767 during business hours?

People! THINK. Do you REALLY want to overwhelm the Haiti Consulate in NYC?

It is probable that American Airlines is flying doctors and nurses to Haiti — but not on commercial flights, because those flights have been cancelled, and not outside of any organized relief effort and your calling the Consulate will do zippo to facilitate that effort.

The Haiti tweet was one of the first I saw when I sat down with Twitter after class. The first thing I did was run a reverse look-up on the phone number, which is how I found out it was the Consulate. Then I went to American Airlines website; nothing about flying medical personnel. Then I searched Google News, where I could not find a single story that asked people to call the Haiti Consulate in New York City nor any that talked about American’s flying doctors and nurses to Haiti on an ad hoc basis.

Total time to verify: less than 5 minutes.

American Airlines is, however, involved in the relief effort:

American scheduled three relief flights on Wednesday to the capital, Port-au-Prince. Each carried 10,000 pounds of supplies for the airline’s 100 employees in Haiti as well as materials for local hospitals. American has scheduled another three relief flights for Thursday, the company said.

Out of frustration with the Twitter meme, I tweeted this:

Want to help Haiti? Donate $10 to American Red Cross; send text with “HAITI” to 90999. DON’T call consulate @ 212-697-9767. Spread the word.

I deliberately used the phone number and closing phrase of the meme encouraging people to do something mindless.

How else can you help?

But please don’t spread memes without thinking. It’s the 2010 version of chain mail. I’ve said it before: we need a Snopes for Twitter.

4 thoughts on “Beware of Twitter Memes; How To Really Help Haiti

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    Autocorrect — Eat Sleep Publish

    January 14, 2010 at 11:51am

    […] how inaccurate Twitter memes correct themselves: Update 12.57 am: Silly me. I went to the American Airlines website looking for info, but it did […]

  2. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Nurses To Haiti | AXI

    January 14, 2010 at 5:23am

    […] Beware Of Twitter Memes; How To Really Help Haiti « WiredPen It is probable that American Airlines is flying doctors and nurses to Haiti — but not on commercial flights, because those flights have been cancelled, and not outside of any organized relief effort and your calling the Consulate will… […]

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