Trick or Tweet: The Good And Ugly On Twitter During The Tsunami
The recent tsunami in Japan has had devastating results. With a death toll in the thousands and massive property damage, the situation is certainly tragic. Like always, the Red Cross is doing everything it can, and President Obama has pledged to help. Plenty of celebrities and ordinary people are doing everything they can to help those in need as well. One easy way to help is through Twitter. Though not new to raising awareness for issues, the tsunami is probably the largest-scale disaster that has hit since Twitter’s launch in 2007. Tweets certainly aren’t always directed to the good of humanity, but how does Twitter hold up in times of actual crisis?
When the news struck, celebrities from Justin Bieber to Charlie Sheen expressed their sympathies via Twitter. Kim Kardashian tweeted, “My prayers are with everyone in Japan!” Yet, prayers and well wishes are probably not what Japan needs from overseas in its time of crises. By texting "REDCROSS" to 90999 $10 is automatically sent to Japan's emergency relief. Diddy, in response to this, wrote "EVERYONE KEEP TEXTING!! The quake & tsunami victims in Japan NEED US!!!" Many more celebrities from Conan O’Brien to Katy Perry have given similar Tweets.
Tim Heidecker (of Tim & Eric Awesome Show) and comedian Neil Hamburger have a recording they are using to raise money for Japan. Heidecker tweeted “@neilhamburger and I have a 10 minute recording that we'd like to release. but it will require your Red Cross donations. more info coming..” When they raise $10,000 they will release the relief track.
Yet, not all celebrities are using their powers for good, especially where humor is concerned. Instead of doing something like Heidecker, comedian Gilbert Gottfried used his Twitter account to unleash some distasteful tsunami jokes. Though he has since removed them, the damage is already done, as a quick internet search will find the Tweets. Though Gottfried is known for his tasteless comedy, apparently even Aflac, who used Gottfried as the voice of their mascot duck, thought he took it too far this time. As of March 14, Gottfried was no longer the voice of the Aflac duck.
50 Cent made some similar jokes about the tsunami, but apologized when he realized the severity of the situation. “Some of my tweets are ignorant I do it for shock value," he tweeted. "Hate it or love it. I’m cool either way 50cent.” Yet, celebrities aren’t the only ones causing mischief on Twitter. It isn’t clear who started them, but several falsely reported deaths circulated through Twitter. The Tweets claimed Pokemon creator Satoshi Tajiri and Hello Kitty designer Yuko Yamaguchi died in the tsunami, among others. Tajiri responded to his rumored death with a Tweet of his own: “Dear Hummingbirds, what's this nonsense about me being dead?" Though the rumored deaths are almost as tasteless as Gottfried’s tweets, there is nobody to pinpoint these memes on.
Twitter could probably even be used for more criminal acts than these ones of tasteless humor. Scam artists could easily link a follower to a bogus charity relief effort. But if you only follow trustworthy accounts (like official Twitter accounts and people you know personally), getting caught in a scam like this shouldn’t be hard to avoid. And if you can avoid the rumors and the bad jokes, it seems Twitter’s potential for good far outweighs the bad.