Social Media and Traditional Media Crisis Communication: Framing 2010 Haiti Earthquake

In 2010 Haiti suffered a devastating earthquake that scientist claim to be the strongest temblor the hit the island in 200 years (LSS, 2010). This historic quake claimed the lives of over 300,000, injured an additional 300,000 and displaced 1.3 million (UNGS, ca. 2010). Social medias’ crisis communication led the way in raising billions dollars in aid, most of which never reached Haiti. While U.S traditional medias’ crisis communication portrayed itself and the people that supported Haiti as heroes and ultimately marginalized victims and Haitian society by framing them, among others, as impoverished and violent.

Media’s positive affect

Social media became a central part in spreading awareness and generating relief efforts in the wake of the earthquake. Twitter especially played a monumental role in providing information and offered a fast direct way for people to donate funds for relief efforts (Pew Research [PW], 2010). A Red Cross texting messaging campaign utilizing Twitter and Facebook raised nearly $40 million dollars in the days ensuing the quake (Gross, 2010). On the global scale, the world came together to raise 9.3 billion between 2010 and 2012 (Beaubien, 2013). Traditional news sources, followed social media’s lead and posted information to their sites gathered from blogs, Twitter and Facebook (PW, 2010). They also provided links informing visitors of ways they could contribute to relief efforts (PW, 2010).

Media’s portrayal of Haiti’s supporters

Though it bolstered social media’s relief campaigns, U.S media portrayed itself and supporters as benevolent givers-taking most of the credit for relief efforts (Brown, 2012). Not everyone bought into the story. In the following video Dr. Sanjay Gupa, CNN’s chief medical correspondent is seen running through the streets of Port-au-Prince to the aid of a 15 day old baby.

One video comment suggested the heroism of Dr. Gupa, while another referred to the video as “CNN bullsh*t propaganda” (Lightfly2013, ca. 2016).

There was also a conflict between various American news media in regards to how earthquake aftermath updates were being reported. The New York times charged MSNBC for taking much of the credit for aid provided to Haiti on behalf of the U.S (Brown, 2012) by noting that MSNBC correspondent, Brian Williams reported that his crew were the only ones supplying food, power and water and that they were using their resources to provide news that would incite viewers to take action (Brown, 2012).

In addition to providing aid relief, the U.S also employed its military. Non-U.S media reported on the questionable intentions of U.S military presence and framed the U.S as a superpower preying on a poor nation in a time of dire need (Brown, 2012). In the Agence France Presse article , Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa implied that donors like the U.S are more interested in personal gain than actually reviving Haiti (Brown, 2012) with the reported statement:

There is a lot of imperialism among the donors. They donate first, but most of it goes back to them (AFP, 2010).

Subsequently, the NPR article “What Happened to the Aid Meant to Rebuild Haiti?” reports that out of the $9 billion the world raised, Haiti only saw 2.5 million and 93% stayed with the donor government, went to United Nations agencies or international nongovernmental agencies (Beaubien, 2013). Furthermore, the lack of accountability and coordination of foreign aid groups resulted in inefficiency. Funds that Haiti did receive were not used for rebuilding the country but uneconomically used for band aids, food and temporary tents (Beaubien, 2013).

Marginalization of victims and Haitian Society

Traditional media marginalized the victims of the quake and Haitian society by framing them, among others, as impoverished and violent.

Impoverished. Much of the coverage of the earthquake referenced the impoverished state of Haiti in comparison with other western nations without providing historical context and the Western countries role of Haiti’s economical position-creating the idea that Haitis’ economical problems are because of Haitis’ irresponsibility (Brown, 2012). One example is the NY Times article, “Fierce Quake Devastates Haitian Capitol,” in which the journalist begins the report with:

A fierce earthquake struck Haiti late Tuesday afternoon, causing a crowded hospital to collapse, leveling countless shantytown dwellings and bringing even more suffering to a nation that was already the hemisphere’s poorest and most disaster-prone (Romero, 2010a)

Violent. While most of this city of 3 million people focused on clearing the streets of debris and pulling bodies out of the rubble left by Tuesday’s earthquake, there were pockets of violence and anarchy, reports of looting and ransacking, and at least one lynching of an accused looter as police officers stood aside (Romero, 2010b).

The above NY Times article quote illustrates how the words “violence,” and “looting,” are used to describe survival tactics (Brown, 2012). This comparison of violence and looting to looking for food and materials does not accurately represent the Haitian people (Brown, 2012) nor provide the complexity of the disaster or represent its impact (Liu 2009, in Brown, 2012). Furthermore, it also demonstrates a lack of compassion for those in dire circumstances trying to survive (Coombs, 2012).


The Haiti earthquake in 2010 illustrates how the connectivity and speed of social media crisis communication can create worldwide awareness and mobilization for humanitarian causes, such as disaster relief efforts. Although social media was used positively to raise billions of dollars for relief efforts, Haiti only benefited from a small fraction -none of which that actually went towards reconstruction. In addition, it also illustrates how traditional news media crisis communication marginalized the victims and Haitian society by painting them as impoverished, without explaining the part Western countries play in Haitis’ economical state, and as violent. These frames do the earthquake victims and Haitian society of injustice because they misrepresent Haitian people. It paints them has causing their own financial woes and violent instead of simply applying survival tactics.


AFP (2010, January 30) Ecuador President Correa Blasts Aid “Imperialism” on Haiti Trip [Web Log] Retrieved from

Beaubien, J (2013, March 4) What Happened To The Aid Meant To Rebuild Haiti?

Brown, Hillary L., (2012, July 6) Representations of Haiti in western news media: Coverage of the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Georgia State University [Thesis] Retrieved from

Coombs.T. W., Hollady, S. J (2012) The handbook of crisis communication. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Malden, MA

Gross, D (2010, January 14) Digital fundraising still pushing Haiti relief

LightFly2013 (ca. 2016) Typical CNN bullshit propaganda. I remember watching this live. And bet there was nothing wrong with that baby to begin with. [Comment] Retrieved from

Liu, B.F (2009) An analysis of U.S government and media disaster frames. Journal of Communication and Management. 13(3). 268-283 Retrieved from

Live Science Staff [LSS] (2013, January 13) The Devastating Haiti Earthquake: Questions and Answers. Retrieved from

Pew Research (2010, January 21) Social Media Aid the Haiti Relief Effort

Romero, S., Lacy, M (2010a, January 12) Fierce Quake Devastates Haitian Capital. Retrieved from

Romero, S., Lacy, M (2010b, January 16) Looting Flares Where Authority Breaks Down. Retrieved from.

United States Geology Survey [UNGS] (ca. 2010) Earthquake information for 2010





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