University of Colorado Grad Student Uses Twitter for Haiti

A Ph.D. student who is studying social media puts lessons to work.

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If you use Twitter, you know about hash tags. If you don't, here is a below-average explanation: Hash tags categorize topics of tweets and allow Twitterers to follow that specific issue—like #haiti or #NFL. The most popular hash tags are identified as "trending topics," which are listed on the main page of your Twitter account when you log on. 

Haiti has been one of the most popular trending topics since the tragic earthquake hit the island nation on January 12. On Twitter, if you click on the trending topic Haiti, you'll see comments from all over the world, with people expressing support, pledging money, and discussing the tragedy. It's turned out to be a great way for people to communicate about the relief effort, too. 

A University of Colorado graduate student teamed up with Project Empowering the Public with Information in Crisis to create a Twitter-based system that aggregates information for everything going on in Haiti, the CU Independent reports. According to the report, there are two types of hash tags that EPIC uses in its tweets: main hash tags and data-based hash tags, based on the content of the post. 

Haitians in need of assistance can text a family member from the ground who can then translate their needs into a tweet with hash tags. These tweets are then organized into a list where the name, need, and location of the person are clearly read and sent to sources where they can be accessed by relief efforts, the student behind the movement, Kate Starbird, tells the Independent

"The hash tags let the computer know the next three words will be a location or a contact and, if it knows that the word 'need' came before it, it's easier to classify things and make it easier for the computer to help," Starbird says. "It can process them in near real time." 

Read more about Tweak the Tweet on EPIC's website. 

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