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Tweeting for Pakistan

Published Aug 28, 2010 10:00am

From her home in Brooklyn, New York, Natasha Jahangir reached out to one of the world's most famous actors, in a rather unusual way. She tweeted: “It's so sad @TomCruise is ignoring his Pakistani fans. -Help raise awareness/donations for Pakistan. Please RT! #pkfloods.” By using Twitter's @ or mention function, Jahangir ensured that her message would feature in a tab on Tom Cruise's page.

Three days later, the Mission Impossible star tweeted: “People of Pakistan, our thoughts R with U.” Cruise encouraged his 900,000 Twitter fans to look up more information on "how to help by going to the US State Department’s website or to simply send $10 through their mobile by texting the word "FLOOD" to 27722."  His message was re-tweeted by hundreds of his fans and soon became a Top Tweet on the site.

On August 18, Jahangir tweeted on Ryan Seacrest’s page: “Help raise awareness/donations for Pakistan. Please RT! #pkfloods  @RyanSeacrest.” The American Idol host soon retweeted to his 3.4 million followers: “Donate $10 to Pakistan flood relief by texting FLOOD to 27722.”

A week earlier, Jahangir, an architecture student who moonlights as a photographer, woke up determined to do something about the lack of awareness and ignorance in the US regarding the devastation that had hit Pakistan.

Pakistanis are currently living through one of the worst natural disasters of modern times. Floods have ruthlessly wreaked havoc on a fifth of the country, affecting 17 million people and 1.7 million hectares of agricultural land. Countless homes, lives and jobs have been destroyed. The US is currently leading assistance efforts in Pakistan, but their response, like much of the world was slow.

“People have been saying a lot of means things about Pakistan. Like Pakistan deserves this. They just have no idea of how bad things are in Pakistan,” said the 22-year-old Jahangir who grew up in Pakistan.  “It’s summertime, all of the celebrities are on tour. They are really busy, but Twitter is one way to reach them. A lot of people follow them. So I thought if they retweet to their followers: why isn’t somebody singing for Pakistan, at least their many fans will find out what’s happening in Pakistan.”

So for the next 36 hours, Jahangir basically mass-spammed famous American singers with the message: "I don't hear anyone singing We Are the World for Pakistan" Please RT #pkfloods”.

And her message caught on. She was soon retweeted by Maroon 5’s Adam Levine, Queen Noor, Michelle Branch, and Marie Digby.

And the tweets started spreading. On August 22 Alicia Keys tweeted from her mobile to her 2.1 million fans: “How come I haven't heard much about what's happening in Pakistan? Do you feel the same?” Within minutes she followed that up with an article by a Pakistani columnist: “Are we becoming desensitized? "Why Doesn't the World Care About Pakistanis?" - By Mosharraf Zaidi”. That article was retweeted by hundreds of her fans.

As early as August 11, Jordan’s Queen Rania started raising awareness by tweeting to her 1.3 million Twitter followers: “Dire needs in Pakistan for flood-affected children - Help @UNICEF Please help these children by visiting http://www.unicef.org”.

On August 25 Real Madrid Star Kaka tweeted, “Save lives in #Pakistan, the century's biggest humanitarian disaster.” He also posted a link for his 1.8 million Twitter followers around the world to donate to Pakistan through the World Food Programme.

British industrialist Richard Branson has also stepped up his tweets for Pakistan. "Across the Virgin Group we are coming together to support the people affected in Pakistan," the father of the Virgin brand posted on his Twitter page. "We must hold the people of Pakistan in the heart of the human family at this time - Desmond Tutu on #pkfloods."

Both Kaka and Branson used two popular Twitter hashtags on the floods: #pkfloods and #pakistan.  These user-generated tags are being tweeted an average of 1,000 times a day according to a website.

Actress and philanthropist Alyssa Milano, who has been regularly tweeting about the floods since August 12 to her one million followers, is currently leading the celebrity Twitter drive for Pakistan.  This year Milano won VH1's "Do Something Twitter" award for using the site to raise money for a non-profit working to supply clean water. On her birthday, she asked her followers to donate money to the charity instead of buying her birthday gifts.

These days on her Twitter page, Milano has been raising awareness about the flood victims, how people can help and also information about Pakistan in general. On August 20, she tweeted: "1 more #Pakistan tweet for 2day. Seems a lot of you think it's in the Middle East (shouldn't matter but), it's not. It's in South Asia. :) ".

Sahar Habib Ghazi blogs at www.outsideislamabad.com and has been selected as a 2010-2011 Journalism Knight Fellow at Stanford University.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.