- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 9, 2005

PHUKET, Thailand — The Internet provides an unprecedented resource for anxious relatives seeking to identify tsunami victims or survivors looking for help. But first, they must sort through a maze of scams, Islamist propaganda and tasteless jokes.

Foreign and local computer analysts in Thailand have made that task easier by establishing a collection of links to direct Web surfers to the most reliable and authoritative sites.

The U.S., British and Thai governments warn Internet users not to be taken in by fake donation requests and deceptive personal pleas, which are reverberating through satellites and Internet servers.

Islamic fundamentalists and their opponents are fighting a war of words in cyberspace, by claiming, for example, that the tsunami was divine punishment for Thailand, tourists, Jews and the United States.

Tasteless American jokesters look at the disaster as an opportunity for humor, without regard for the pain their jokes may cause the bereaved.

As a result, many serious Web users are turning to sites such as OneThailand.com, which offers tsunami-related material from Bangkok’s two English-language newspapers, text reports from CNN and the British Broadcasting Corp. and links to various official lists of dead and missing persons.

Even some of the recommended Web sites can be hard to look at.

“Photos of unidentified bodies — very graphic,” OneThailand.com warns, alerting users looking for missing loved ones that they will see stomach-churning, color pictures of corpses, swollen or bloodied from the tidal wave and tropical heat.

There are links to Thailand’s main hospitals, alongside discussion forums and official information about visas, donations and DNA sampling.

“When you get to the arrivals counter at Don Muang [International] Airport, Bangkok, please inform the officer that you are arriving to search for relatives. They may or may not take you to the DNA counter in Terminal 2, baggage claim area on the ground floor,” OneThailand.com advises.

“If they don’t take you, please present yourself at the DNA counter so that they may take samples. … Try to prepare as many of the following items to help identify your relative or friend — toothbrush, underwear, hair, shaver, etc., plus medical records, descriptions and photos of missing people.”

Another Web site, Phuketcity.com offers similar links plus messages about missing people.

“Desperately seeking news on staff at Phi Phi Islands … including Roman from France, Toby from UK who worked at Tiger Bar, Eivan from Norway,” begs one posting on the site.

The Web is full of chat groups and forums that allow the public to post messages and chatter about the tsunami.

Some users compare the disaster’s death toll with the large number of deaths in Iraq or slam international media and politicians for their response, according to MediaChannel.org, which tracks various postings.

Donation-seeking organizations, meanwhile, are making it easy for compassionate surfers to click and pay.

The Arlington-based Council of Better Business Bureaus lists charities evaluated by its “Wise Giving Alliance,” including nongovernmental organizations and faith-based groups.

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