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In the aftermath of the worst earthquake in years, Costa Ricans turn to social networking Web sites.
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — The evening of Jan. 12, at least five mini tremors rippled near Poas Volcano, a popular Costa Rican tourist site 30 kilometers north of San Jose. The tremors came four days after the biggest earthquake in 17 years here, which left at least 23 dead and more than 2,000 homeless.
By early morning Jan. 13, fearful Internet users were rapidly sending messages over social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, once again asking, "Did you feel it?" and "Are you okay?"
In the aftermath of the earthquake and ensuing tremors, many Costa Ricans have become increasingly web savvy, as they blog, post "tweets" (Twitter updates) and message about the natural disasters. The event has transformed those with computers into citizen journalists, according to journalists and bloggers. With a user rate of about 34 percent in the population of approximately 4.2 million, the Internet is bringing Ticos — as Costa Ricans call themselves — together to share information and create emergency networks in near-lightening speed.
Tweets following the quake have ranged from attempts to locate missing relatives to calls for donations to questions such as, "are the authorities really doing enough in the relief effort?"
Helping lead the new cyber charge is Amelia Rueda, a veteran journalist who has become a household name in Costa Rica after years of television and radio reporting. While Rueda continues to focus on traditional media, she has a new favorite tool: Web networking sites.
"I'm a 57-year-old woman who started journalism writing on a typewriter," Rueda said over the phone, between tweeting with her more than 600 followers on Twitter and sending mass-messages in text or video to her more than 1,000 Facebook friends.
"I've lived through the development of lots of media, and right now I feel like Internet and alternative media can become networks for support, to generate ideas, to promote and provoke important change and important answers," Rueda said.
Seeking a broader network to help Costa Rica cope with the quake, Rueda created a group on Facebook, "Terremoto Costa Rica: Ayuda a Victimas" (Costa Rica Earthquake: Help the Victims), which posts information about where and what to donate for the hundreds of families living in temporary shelters. Facebook and other sites soon began buzzing about the new group. Twitterers began tweeting, bloggers blogging and the earthquake group's membership quickly swelled to more than 7,000 Facebook users.
"This has been a huge and marvelous discovery for me," Rueda said.
The surge in networks such as these has begun to make its presence known in the Costa Rican vernacular, with the lingo already beginning to translate, if clumsily, into Spanish. Cristian Cambronero, 27, said he and Twitter followers like to "tweetear," and occasionally "re-tweetear" — to tweet and "re-tweet," or re-post someone else's message.
The Costa Rican daily newspaper La Nacion joined Twitter this week too, and thanked one reader when he become its follower on Twitter, writing "gracias por el follow."
Cambronero's popular blog, Fusil de Chispas, has been offering a synthesis and commentary of news on the earthquake. But these days, Cambronero is more likely to be found tweeteando. The urgency of the situation — the Jan. 8 earthquake measured 6.2 — has called for faster forms of communication.
"Some (Twitter) users reported having friends and family members in the area of the epicenter," Cambronero said. "Thanks to Twitter we could follow up on their personal stories."
As for Rueda, after the phone interview, she went straight to her webcam and filmed a video for her Facebook friends. She thanked them for their support, for their stories during a difficult period in Costa Rica's history. And she praised her new favorite tool, saying, "We're proving that the Internet can change the world. What do you say?"