As some might know, I have a fond appreciation of Japan. My younger sister worked in Tokyo for several years at Disney and I was fortunate enough to visit her on a few occasions. During my trips, I was able to visit numerous shrines, Mount Fuji, Nikko, the Tsukiji Market and more. That’s why the pictures from North Japan and elsewhere in the country have been especially difficult for me to view.
However, one interesting theme has emerged during the crisis, and like others before it (such as earthquakes in New Zealand, Chile, etc.); how social media sites serve as a vital news hub for people in and outside of the country.
After the telephone lines went down, more than 1,200 tweets were sent per minute from Tokyo – – less than an hour after the quake. According to some reports, it was a Twitter record. Capitalizing on this demand for real-time, web-based information, the prime minister of Japan launched Facebook and Twitter pages to provide ongoing updates about relief efforts.
The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) said for only the second time since PEJ began monitoring social media in January 2009, the same story was the No 1. topic on blogs, Twitter and YouTube. The PEJ article said, “For the week of March 14-18, a full 64% of blog links, 32% of Twitter news links and the top 20 YouTube news videos were about that subject.” The report also stated, the only other time one topic led the news on blogs, Twitter and YouTube was June 15-19, 2009, during the elections in Iran (also known as the “Twitter Revolution.”)
In a recent Bangkok Post article, the paper supported the PEJ’s findings by saying, “Posts with the keyword ‘Japan’ are flooding Facebook and other social media networks at the rate of dozens per second. On Twitter the posts are rolling so rapidly that it’s impossible to read the live stream.”
One potential reason for the spike in social media volume can be attributed to the U.S. government. The U.S. State Department tweeted a recommendation that people in the U.S. should use Facebook and Twitter to reach loved ones, as phone service to certain areas of the country remains disrupted.
Another factor is the speed in which people can obtain updates about the unfolding crisis. According to reports, citizens inside Japan have heavily relied upon Mixi, the country’s largest social networking site, to send updates to each other about the disaster.
While social media sites have helped many, there have also been some reported problems. The Bangkok Post also reported that cybercriminals are trying to capitalize on the disarray by setting up phishing scams that pose as a donation sites for earthquake victims. To nobody’s surprise, the rampant spread of misinformation and unverified data is also causing issues.
In closing, while some might subscribe to the theory that most social media content is trivial and static, these sites – during a natural disaster or crisis – are proving to be an effective, constant stream of information and last line of communication when trying to reach loved ones.
(Photos taken on previous trips)