Twitter can be used for so much more than just mildly incoherent, 140-character observations. As these instances prove, the social media platform can literally be a lifesaver.
Demi Moore prevents suicide
On April 2, 2009, a San Jose, Calif., woman using the handle @sandieguy sent out a frightening tweet. The individual stated she was about to commit suicide with a knife, and went into graphic detail about cutting herself.
At this time, none other than G.I. Jane – actress Demi Moore – quickly retweeted the disturbing message, preceding it with a message of her own.
Ms. Moore had roughly 400,000 Twitter followers at the time. Within minutes, several individuals who received the tweet notified the local authorities. San Jose Police Sgt. Ronnie Lopez told E! News that the woman showed no injuries, but was deemed fit for a psychiatric evaluation.
An hour later, the actress expressed mixed feelings about the initial response:
But soon afterward, Ms. Moore confirmed the claim was valid and the woman was now safe – thanks to her good samaritan followers.
Japanese doctors assist quake survivors
In the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan’s eastern coastline in May 2011, doctors struggled to communicate with survivors. Phone networks were down, but the Internet was somewhat stable – and Twitter became a primary link between medical staff and hundreds of chronically ill patients.
Most of the sick individuals suffered from pulmonary hypertension, and required a continuous regimen of infused prostacyclin. Without a steady supply of this drug, these patients would succumb to their condition in a matter of days.
Drs. Yuichi Tamara and Keiichi Fukuda spearheaded the effort to connect with the survivors in need. They told Medical News Today that Twitter served several purposes throughout this life-saving effort.
“Forming a supply chain for such drugs in the earliest stages of the disaster was difficult; however, we found that social networking services could have a useful role…We were able to notify displaced patients via Twitter on where to acquire medications. These ‘tweets’ immediately spread through patients’ networks, and consequently most could attend to their essential treatments,” they said.
Ann Curry lends a hand to Doctors Without Borders
In April 2010, roughly three months after a powerful earthquake struck Haiti, Doctors Without Borders dispatched a team of medical workers to the ravaged Caribbean nation. But when their plane began its descent into Port-au-Prince, pilots were unable to get clearance to land from U.S. military officials, who oversaw activity on Haitian airfields.
DWB Communications Director Jason Cone immediately issued a press release, as well as a series of tweets to notify the public of the plane’s situation. His pleas reached the eyes of award-winning journalist Ann Curry, who contacted the Pentagon and sent out a tweet of her own:
In this case, Twitter indirectly saved lives. Though the doctors were never in imminent danger, their plane was eventually allowed to land – and their presence surely improved the medical welfare of countless Haitian citizens. Twitter cited Curry’s response as the “most powerful tweet of 2010 .”
DWB, under the handle @MSF_USA , has a very active Twitter account with nearly 200,000 followers. In the months that followed the ‘plane diversion’ incident, the nonprofit organization tweeted about various problems facing Haitian quake survivors, such as destitute living conditions and cholera outbreaks.
Kidnapped? Text somebody!
In April 2012, an unnamed Johannesburg man was carjacked, beaten and forced into the trunk of his automobile. During the commotion, the attackers overlooked the cell phone in their victim’s pocket.
The man texted his girlfriend as soon as the vehicle started off, and she sent out this tweet in response:
Guardian UK reported that her message was picked up by @pigfinder , a well-known South African Twitter user who specializes in revealing locations of police blockades. Since his many followers included several private security personnel, the local authorities were immediately notified of the crime and given a vehicle description.
The man’s abductors were eventually apprehended roughly 150 miles from where the carjacking took place. Their hostage was a little shaken up, but otherwise OK.
Tunisia’s Twitter Revolution assists millions
Last year, the small North African nation of Tunisia experienced two revolutions. One involved a rebellion again the country’s sitting president. The other, dubbed ‘Tunisia’s Twitter Revolution’ by the Canadian National Post, saw a dramatic spike in the use of the social networking platform.
Tunisian and foreign medical aid workers, peacekeeping coalitions and civilian volunteer groups used Twitter to communicate various needs throughout the uprising. In just 24 hours following President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s departure from the nation, hundreds of thousands of tweets originating in Tunisia were recorded.
Two of them were sent by a man using the handle, @BulletSkan.
“Spread the word! I must escape! There are armed men in our yard at 72 Avenue 3 Aout!”
The details of his circumstances have remained vague. But Bullet Skan received the help he so desperately requested – and expressed his gratitude two days later.
Honorable mention: In December 2011, Gawker reported that Twitter saved the life of Erickson Dimas-Martinez, an Arkansas man charged with first-degree murder. The Arkansas Supreme Court overturned his murder conviction after a juror sent out a series of tweets during the trial. “It is in no way appropriate for a juror to state musings, thoughts or other information about a case in such a public fashion,” stated the court. But Mr. Dimas-Martinez was only temporarily spared by Twitter; a new trial was recently scheduled for June 2012. It should also be noted that the defendant is accused of robbing and shooting to death a 17-year old boy.