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Ann Curry Tweets Disasters

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, April 20 2010

Credit: JD Lasica

After having been to a fair number of panel discussions on what the grand societal impact of Twitter might well be, there's an intriguing thread that runs throughout. Twitter, the idea goes, is especially powerful where real-time information relayed and amplified by tens or hundreds or thousands of people, has the power to change things. Twitter is kinda like CB radio that way. That was certainly part of the conversation on our panel session today on election reform at the 140 Character Conference at the 92nd Street Y on the Upper East Side. To a striking degree, it was the gist of a session that came later, on the Haiti disaster, anchored by NBC's Ann Curry, or @anncurry.

(Curry took to the stage to a greeting of ululating by one women in the audience. That's neither here nor there. But it does help to set the scene.)

Curry talked about the now near-famous incident where she tweeted out word that a Doctors Without Borders plane was being prevented by the U.S. Air Force from landing near Port-au-Prince. Curry explained why she tweeted: "I stepped outside my journalist box. I thought to myself, 'I need to be an activist here." Joining Curry onstage was the U.S. Air Force. Or, at least, Major David Haggard (@usairforce). Haggard said, yep, the Pentagon was indeed tracking the tweet stream. Scores of tweeters picked up Curry's tweet about the Doctors plane, and the Air Force responded by saying they were now on top of the situation.

The lesson? For Curry, "There is a core of goodness in people who are Twitterers. You give them an opportunity and they're going to do it."

There were other stories shared of how Twitter shaped what went down in Haiti. Lt. Aliza Landes (@IDFSpokesperson) is the head of the Israel Defense Forces' new media team. She talked about how, via Twitter, a five-year old boy in Haiti was connected with an organization that in turn connected him with the medical care he needed in a Miami hospital. "He would probably be dead if not for Twitter," said Landes.

Other stories told suggest that it's time to retire Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon for One Degree of Ann Curry. Luke Renner (@firesideint) is an American living in Haiti. Just after the quake, he tweet out his phone number, and said that he was available should anyone want to talk. "The first phone call I got," said Renner, "was from Ann Curry."

One interesting logistical note from Renner. He suggested that, Haiti's technological weakness was actually a strength. Plenty of people in Haiti (or at least the well-off), said Renner, were already dependent on satellite phones and generators. With electricity and an uplink still functional post-quake, they were still able to tweet.

Related: techPresident's interview with FEMA's Craig Fugate on using social media in disasters.