This story was supported by the Pulitzer Center.
By Sam Bojarski
The 2010 earthquake severed many traditional lines of communication in Haiti. It toppled cell phone towers, damaged a major fiber-optic cable, knocked television and radio stations off the air and made telephone communication via landlines nearly impossible.
Diaspora members had to change the way they communicated and gathered information in the days following the disaster.
“The earthquake became this pivotal moment where we had to use social media for information,” said Leonie Hermantin, who serves as director of development, communications and strategic planning at the Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center in Miami.
Social media became a source of mutual support for Diaspora members attempting to keep pace with news and check in with loved ones, as people shared posts through Twitter and large Facebook groups. And in the years since the earthquake, social media has played a bigger and bigger role as an information-sharing tool for Haitians and the Diaspora, thanks to the changing telecommunications landscape in Haiti and the growing popularity of platforms like Whatsapp.
Although social media platforms have made communication easier, they have also, by rapidly spreading both facts and, at times, rumors, had an impact on social and political life in the 10 years following the earthquake.
Communicating after the disaster
For 48 hours after disaster struck, most of Haiti lacked cell service. The country’s two largest telecommunications providers at the time, Digicel and Voila, had placed most of their cell towers on top of buildings, leaving them susceptible to damage, said Charles Edouard Denis of Petionville, who served as an assistant vice president for the former Haitian telecommunications company Haitel, from 1999-2007.
Even after the 48-hour outage, cellular communication was unreliable.
“It took them a while to (restore) the network. However, with all of these people trying to make calls, the network kept shutting down, because of the amount of traffic,” Denis said.
The internet proved to be the most reliable method of communication. While the earthquake damaged the undersea fiber-optic cable connecting Port-au-Prince to the Bahamas, many of Haiti’s internet service providers (ISPs), were using satellite infrastructure. Two of the most popular ISPs, Access Haiti and Hainet, used a microwave internet connection to the Dominican Republic.
Those lucky enough to have internet access at the time communicated with loved ones through home internet or free voice-over internet protocol (VoIP) services offered by Access Haiti and Hainet after the earthquake.
“Everybody was helping everybody else, that’s how we got out of that situation,” Denis added. “If one person in one neighborhood had access, almost everyone in that neighborhood was either inside that yard or behind the walls.” Continue reading