Jan. 13, 2010 -- The first pictures out of Haiti minutes after Wednesday's catastrophic earthquake were poorly lighted, blurry and out of focus. But their message of devastation and heartbreak could not be clearer.
One showed a man, almost out of frame, screaming at nothing and no one in particular. In another, a woman covered in dust reached desperately toward the camera.
Just as the initial images from Haiti did not come from professional photographers, the first impressions from eyewitnesses did not come from professional journalists. Instead, each came from citizen-reporters or, more accurately, people who watched the world around them literally crumble and broadcast it on social networking sites.
When the phone lines went down in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, people in the midst of chaos turned to Web sites such as Twitter and Facebook to share their photographs or stories.
The collective tweet recalls similar responses during last year's California fires, Hudson River plane landing and Iranian elections fallout.
Haitian radio host Carel Pedre was one of the first to snap photos of the quake's aftermath and post them to his Facebook page.
"It's sad, bad," Pedre said. "We're devastated."
Within minutes, Facebook posts and Tweets came in from around the world, some offering prayers, others desperately seeking information about loved ones.
Carline Francois tweeted, "If anyone has news on Route de Frere, please post. I can't reach my family."
Official Sources Get in on Social Networking
Haiti native and music superstar Wyclef Jean tweeted, before he boarded a plane to Haiti, about a rapper friend that is missing and, he fears, dead.
Aggregators such as TweetDeck collect and organize tweets, making them easier to search for the latest news or pictures. One, TwitterMap.tv, shows where people are tweeting geographically so users can watch others' tweets pop up from every corner of the globe.
One girl near Jakarta, Indonesia, echoed the simple message of thousands of others: "My heart goes out to all the victims."
A Facebook group dedicated to the victims of the earthquake already has more than 14,000 members and is quickly growing.
"Haiti is on my mind," user Joy Montgomery wrote. "[I] can't stop thinking about all those people trapped in rubble. I just kissed my kids, and I am feeling so grateful for my comfortable life."
While social networking is by nature a grassroots method of communication, official sources have also taken advantage.
The White House Twitter feed urged its followers to donate to the Red Cross for relief through text message and the Department of State used its blog, DipNote, to encourage donations as well.
As relief agencies around the world scramble to help those in need, most people are left sending their best wishes, in whatever form they can.
"We pray none affected shall faint, but be strong and courageous," one user said recently. "We're with you."