Internet-savvy Chile taps TwitterUpdated
By Evaristo Sa, AFP/Getty Images
Bejamira Neira Zapata assesses the damage to her home Monday after a tsunami, triggered by Saturday's magnitude-8.8 earthquake, engulfed her village of Penca, Chile.By Victor Herrero, Special for USA TODAYSANTIAGO, Chile — The messages began flowing soon after the quake hit the country.
"Urgent. In Constitucion an eight-year old boy named Ivan Lara showed up alone. He's looking for his family," stated a post on Twitter.
"Urgent. If someone needs a ride to Concepcio´n call … will be traveling tomorrow and there's room in the car," tweeted another user two minutes later.
And 20 seconds after that, another person posted a link to a website with a list of supermarkets still open in the central-south region of Chile.
Chile's population at 16.7 million is less than the New York metropolitan area, but the Pacific Coast nation ranks fourth worldwide in terms of social-networking penetration among its home and work Internet audience, according to comScore, a market research company specialized in online audiences. Since Saturday's quake, traditional media here have focused on hard news — death tolls, rescue efforts, government announcements and images of lootings — while social-networking tools such as Twitter, Facebook
and some Google applications have been at the forefront of transmitting highly localized information.
Top message topics are about finding families and friends, food and water, ways to get transportation.
The coastal city of Constitucion, Chile's second-largest behind Santiago, has been virtually cut off from the rest of the country. There is no air, bus or train service.
Karla Ramos, a nurse in a Santiago hospital, posted a Facebook message Saturday to her family living in Concepcio´n. She heard nothing at first because the lack of electricity there meant there was no Internet service, but finally heard back Sunday.
The first thing college professor Ricardo Martinez of Santiago did on Saturday, once electricity was restored in his neighborhood, was to post a message on his Facebook account.
"Cellphone lines were jammed and I wanted to let all of my friends know that my family and I were doing fine," he said. "One simple line on Facebook saves me a hundred calls."
Google's people finder application, launched in Haiti
's recent earthquake, had more than 35,000 postings by Monday morning. Cristobal Aninat, a senior partner at a local consultant firm, used this tool to try to find his sister who had been vacationing in a small town near the epicenter of the earthquake.
TV anchors have been posting information on their Twitter accounts deemed not important enough to make the national news, such as where to find drinking water in certain neighborhoods
"Chile has a very advanced Internet audience as far as social networking," said Andrew Lipsman, a senior director for Industry Analysis at comScore.
As of January 2010, 89% of Chileans with access to Internet regularly used social networks, behind Canada, Turkey and Colombia. About 40% of Chilean households have an Internet connection, according to government data. More than 5.8 million Chileans had a Facebook account in 2009, ranking 14th in the world and fifth in per-capita terms, according to data from the networking site.
"I believe this reflects the general sophistication of Internet users in Chile and a natural inclination to use the Internet as a vehicle for socializing and communicating," Lipsman said.
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