Saturday, 3 October 2009

Bayanihan 2.0: Ondoy floods the Net

Ed Biado
Manila Standard

As of Tuesday (Sept. 29), Bibs Figueroa’s Facebook status update reads, “Please clear Facebook walls of unnecessary status messages and quiz results. Facebook is now being used for faster dissemination of rescue calls, updates and other important information [regarding] Typhoon Ketsana/Ondoy.”

It may be a repost of someone else’s update, as many cause-related updates are, but it cannot be any truer. My Facebook news feed is usually filled with my friends’ Mafia Wars and Farmville notifications. But when we started to feel the fury of tropical storm Ondoy, it transformed into a round-the-clock news channel and resource center.

We, Filipinos, have turned to the Web in executing our distinct collective concept of heroism, bayanihan. It’s an epic collaborative mass action, on- and offline, in the midst of a calamity of epic proportions.

By Sunday (Sept. 27) afternoon, as floods in certain areas were subsiding, more Ondoy communications flooded Facebook. It became a virtual real-time community-driven disaster response control hub for victims and volunteers alike. It was a gushing river of pleas for help, missing person calls, messages of hope, hotline numbers and relief mobilization schedules.

Popular messages include variations of a request for all Filipino Facebook users (an estimated 1.6 million) to donate a hundred pesos each in aid of the rescue operations. Others are updates on ongoing citizen brigades, request for participation, evacuation center availability, reports on donation and pledge amounts, bank account numbers where donations can be deposited and individual efforts that are equally significant.

Pictures that show muddy interiors, one-story high floods and wrecked vehicles are also posted as part of the Ondoy coverage by citizen journalists (videos, on the other hand, are posted both at Facebook and YouTube). Even shots of celebrities, like Gerald Anderson swimming around his village to check on his neighbors, are circulated by impressed Facebookers to applaud their bravery.

Users with mobile network problems have been using Facebook as the primary means of communication. Those trapped on rooftops whose phones were able to get a signal contacted their relatives and friends, who, in turn, sought rescue help via their Facebook statuses.

Some have been spending hours and hours on the site, acting as “switchboard controllers” and “dispatchers” and liaising between victims and authorities/volunteer groups. These people have been tirelessly collating information and organizing them on spreadsheets and maps on an especially-made Google landing site and pictographs for others to easily refer to.

Messages about the storm have also flooded micro-blogging site Twitter—enough for “Philippines” to be a top trending topic for four days in a row, as of this writing. Along the way, “NDCC,” “Ondoy,” “CHED” and other related keywords have also trended.

This has gone as far as Hollywood, with Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, Alyssa Milano, Ricky Martin, Paris Hilton and Pete Wenz all expressing their sympathy and calls to aid affected Filipinos, re-tweeting links to either the American or Philippine Red Cross and petitioning the former to extend assistance to the latter.

Josh Groban wrote, “The situation in the Philippines is dire. This is a good way to help,” and posted a link as well. Paulo Coelho shared his sentiments, at the same time, urging the PRC to open a PayPal account for quicker donation transmittal.

Many lives have potentially been spared and many worries have been eased by these seemingly innocuous status updates and tweets. People who posted traffic and flood conditions were able to aid commuters in deciding on alternative routes. Those stranded were able to let all their loved ones (including the ones abroad) know their whereabouts and state. The interactive maps proved critical in the process, as their real-time updates on victims helped in organizing tactical, well-coordinated rescue operations.

Three days after the onslaught of the storm, there is still a continuous flow of Facebook updates and tweets about drop-off points for donations and volunteers.

And for those who are still awaiting rescue, Jessica Gutierrez posted on Tuesday, “Mr. Angelo Olondriz manufactures rubber boats and speedboats. Anyone still stranded on their roofs in Marikina or Cainta, please text 0917-540-8921 with details—names, address, ages and current situation. They will be sending out their teams to the ‘un-rescued.’ Please repost. Thanks.”

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