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Twitter, Facebook and Fighting Global Hunger

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Twitter and Facebook are everywhere!  But can these powerful social media tools help defeat man’s ancient enemy– hunger?  Can they support relief operations for famine and drought-ravaged East Africa?  Jen Hardy of the charity Catholic Relief Services recently took time to discuss Twitter, Facebook and fighting global hunger.

Can someone use Twitter to mobilize support for famine relief in East Africa and other areas suffering from hunger?

Absolutely! Twitter is a great way for people who share common interests to share information. It’s also a wonderful resource for searches about a particular topic. I suggest doing a few searches on Twitter to find out what people are saying about the drought and food security in East Africa. That way, your advocacy messages will be informed by the conversation that’s already happening. 

Go to the Twitter homepage (even if you don’t have an account!) and try searching a few of these terms: drought, famine, East Africa, the name of a specific country (like Kenya or Somalia), and Horn of Africa. 

Are there ways to make tweets about global hunger stand out?

Tweets with a link for more detailed information are great. You can share the most interesting tidbit in the text of the tweet, and then add a shortened url that provides further context.

It’s also a good practice to use hashtags when crafting a tweet about a specific topic, such as hunger. A hashtag is simply the “#” sign in front of a search term. On the Twitter platform, using a hashtag creates a clickable link to search for other posts with that same hashtag. It’s also a way to sort information quickly at an event, such as during a local fundraiser for famine relief.

Here are a few tips for using hashtags:

  • Don’t litter each tweet with multiple hashtags. Two or three is plenty.
  • Don’t leave spaces between a multi-word hashtag. For example, use “#HornofAfrica,” not “#Horn of Africa.”
  • Do use What the Trend or another site devoted to explaining hashtags if you’re not sure what something means and to find the best hashtag for a specific topic. 

Can Facebook also be used for helping to feed the hungry?

Not only can Facebook help fight global hunger, I think it’s vital for raising awareness of the issue and sharing ways to get involved. A crisis that’s half a world away and slow moving, like the drought in East Africa, is so much more real when we feel a personal connection to the people living through it. Media coverage and advocacy by organizations are just parts of the puzzle in getting people to care. A few of my friends, for example, posted about how sad the pictures coming out of East Africa were, but they didn’t actually make a donation to hunger relief until I reached out through a personal message with a list of several of the most efficient organizations working in East Africa. That personal contact helped them take the final step from empathy to action.

There are so many ways to get involved in hunger relief on Facebook. “Like” a few organizations working in East Africa to get updates right to your Facebook feed. Recruit your friends to “Like” those organizations. Donate to an organization you trust through Facebook Causes. And share your own links to useful information as the East Africa crisis continues. Catholic Relief Services has a good collection of resources if you need a starting point.

Can sites like Blogger, WordPress and others be used to help hunger relief missions overseas?

Any blogging platform can be a wonderful way to share both the need in East Africa and resources for how to get involved. Blogs are a public way to share personal commitment to a cause like hunger relief, and most bloggers are savvy with search engine optimization. Many organizations working in East Africa either have a downloadable button for bloggers or can provide one on request. Blogs are also good platforms for discussing the politics of food aid and budget cuts. Calls to political action should include a link to find elected officials’ contact information

There’s also a robust community of international aid and development bloggers who offer suggestions and critiques for how development can work better.

What are some other social media sites that can be used to help end hunger worldwide? 

Social media facilitates connections between people, so any social media platform can build on existing relationships to help others. YouTube is perfect for those supporters who react to a more visual medium and it integrates well with Facebook in terms of sharing videos. If you’re an early adopter on Google+, search “Sparks” for drought and hunger topics. Post photos of a local awareness event on Instagram, Picasa or Flickr. If you sell your art or handicrafts on Etsy, donate a percentage of your sales to hunger relief, and link to your preferred organization. There are too many possibilities to list, and I’m sure there are many more that haven’t occurred to aid organizations yet (please add your ideas to the comments!).

Congress is proposing cuts to international food aid in the budget. Can Facebook, Twitter and other sites be used to get Congress to support international food aid programs?

Gritty details about the inner-workings of Congress make most people’s eyes glaze over. If you’re going to share anything about an upcoming vote or appropriation process, break it down for your friends and followers. Explain exactly what’s happening in simple terms, provide a clear ask for how they can get involved, and then provide instructions for next steps. If you want a shortcut to this whole process, sign up for the Catholic Relief Services/USCCB joint effort Catholics Confront Global Poverty. The CCGP action alerts break everything down into plain language and clear instructions (plus, we won’t bombard your inbox!). 

Twitter is especially useful for contacting representatives. If your representative uses Twitter, send him or her @replies (beginning a tweet with someone’s Twitter handle directs a public message to their attention). It’s a nice way to break through the clutter of emails and phone calls, and the staffer assigned to the account will bring highlights back to the representative.

How can someone contact Catholic Relief Services with questions?

Besides our normal contact information, find us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. Our Twitter feed for journalists is @CRSNews. And if you have any ideas for using social media to fight hunger, find me on Twitter (@JenHardy).

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About William Lambers

William Lambers is the author of several books including Ending World Hunger: School Lunches for Kids Around the World. This book features over 50 interviews with officials from the UN World Food Programme and other charities discussing school feeding programs that fight child hunger. He is also the author of Nuclear Weapons, The Road to Peace: From the Disarming of the Great Lakes to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Open Skies for Peace, The Spirit of the Marshall Plan: Taking Action Against World Hunger, School Lunches for Kids Around the World, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, From War to Peace and the Battle of Britain. He is also a writer for the History News Service. His articles have been published by newspapers including the Cincinnati Enquirer, Des Moines Register, the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Buffalo News, San Diego Union Tribune, the Providence Journal, Free Lance-Star (VA), the Bakersfield Californian, the Washington Post, Miami Herald (FL), Chicago Sun-Times, the Patriot Ledger (MA), Charleston Sunday Gazette Mail (WV), the Cincinnati Post, Salt Lake Tribune (UT), North Adams Transcript (MA), Wichita Eagle (KS), Monterey Herald (CA), Athens Banner-Herald (GA) and the Duluth News Journal. His articles also appear on History News Network (HNN) and Think Africa Press. Mr. Lambers is a graduate of the College of Mount St. Joseph in Ohio with degrees in Liberal Arts (BA) and Organizational Leadership (MS). He is also a member of the Feeding America Blogger Council.