The Web Is the Eye of Hurricane Relief

Thirteen million people, or 9 percent of American Internet users, gave money online for relief efforts following hurricanes Rita and Katrina. Since the beginning of this year, the number of Americans who say they’ve donated online is up 53 percent to 26 million people, according to a new Pew Internet & American Life Project study.

Though half of all U.S. Internet users got news and information about the hurricanes online, most of these people (54 percent) sought alternative sources, including blogs, nonprofits, and non-mainstream media sites, for details. Five percent set up their own relief efforts online, and four percent posted their own hurricane-related material to the Web, including comments, links, and pictures.

The study recognizes a sharp trend toward online giving. After September 11, 10 percent of U.S. Internet users (11 million Americans) said they’d donated money online. That figure rose to 13 percent following the Asian tsunami in late 2004. John B. Horrigan, who authored the study, points out donations weren’t necessarily made in conjunction with those tragedies, but the news likely prompted new online donors to action.

Americans Who Have Donated Online, October 2001-September 2005
Month Donors (M)
October 2001 11
January 2005 17
September 2005 26
Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2005

Following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, 18 percent of all U.S. Internet users said they had made an online donation. Half this number said they specifically donated to Gulf Coast hurricane relief efforts.

In addition to users seeking non-mainstream sources of news and information, this study marks the first time Pew has found parity in online news consumption between broadband and dial-up users. This is attributed to people’s strong desire for news of the hurricanes as well as the fact media such as blogs don’t place significant demands on bandwidth or connection speed.

How Americans Got News About Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (%)
All Internet Users Home Broadband Internet Users Home Dial-Up Internet Users
Got news online about hurricanes Katrina or Rita* 50 59 45
Type of Site Visited
Web site of a major news organization, such as 73 74 69
Web site of nonprofit organizations, such as the Red Cross or the United Way* 32 37 27
A government Web site, such as or 19 20 17
Internet blogs about the hurricanes 17 17 15
Web site of an international news organization, such as the BBC* 14 16 11
The Web site of an alternative news organization, such as or* 11 12 8
1. The asterisk denotes statistically significant differences between home broadband and dial-up users.
2. Approximately 72 million Ameicans used the Internet to get news and information about the hurricanes.
Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2005

For the study, 1,577 Internet users were surveyed in September 2005. Of these, 792 were home broadband users; 563 were home dial-up users; and remainder accessed the Web outside the home.

Related reading