Tsunamis expose best..and worst

commentary As disasters tend to do, the Boxing Day tsunamis have brought out the best and worst of human nature.Amid the stories of generosity and self-sacrifice, the shonks, scammers and overeager news hounds are coming out in force, with 'fake' images, Nigerian scam-style e-mails and alarmist text messages the tools of their trade.

commentary As disasters tend to do, the Boxing Day tsunamis have brought out the best and worst of human nature.

Amid the stories of generosity and self-sacrifice, the shonks, scammers and overeager news hounds are coming out in force, with 'fake' images, Nigerian scam-style e-mails and alarmist text messages the tools of their trade. Worse may be to come as well -- security experts are claiming that it is only a matter of time before Web sites that spoof well-known charities emerge.

Some of the country's most prestigious media outlets -- under intense competitive pressure to deliver shocking and compelling images of the disaster -- were apparently sucked in this week by 'fake' images, forcing some angry and red-faced apologies from on-air personalities and network executives.

In addition, as ZDNet Australia 's Kristyn Maslog-Levis has reported, scammers are trying to line their own pockets by sending out Nigerian-style hoax e-mails -- with a tsunami twist -- in the hope of misleading people into parting with dollars best donated straight to professional relief agencies.

While the vast majority of us dismiss such e-mails out of hand, there's one born every minute -- the Melbourne financial advisor who fell for the Nigerian scam comes to mind.

News of another nasty trick comes from Singapore -- a malicious false text message claiming that, in the wake of the tsunami, a virus was contaminating seafood in the island republic.

However, on the other side of the coin, the response from individuals, companies and governments has been outstanding -- with the tech and telecommunications communities putting their hands deep into their pockets. Just a few examples: Microsoft has pledged US$3.5 million to relief efforts, IBM US$1 million in cash and services (including 1,000 ThinkPads) to date and Cisco is giving directly through a consortium known as NetHope and providing comms links in affected areas.

In Australia, Telstra has provided a contribution of AU$1 million and rebates for telephony and Internet costs associated with contact in the affected areas, while Optus is giving rebates and helping Singaporean parent SingTel contribute AU$154,000.

However, the most enduring contribution made by technology to the future is expected to be the planned Indian Ocean tsunami alert system. Experts have already said such a system, modelled on the existing Pacific Tsunami Warning System, could have saved tens of thousands of lives across Asia had it been in operation. The project, expected to be hustled into reality, is crucial in ensuring the battered region does not suffer nearly as badly from similar disasters in future.

A previous version of this commentary stated the photos published on Crikey were digitally-created. They were not, they were actually of what is known as a tidal bore and were taken in China in 2002. The writer apologises for his mistake.

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