Japan, and the Critical Three Ways Social Media Plays During a Crisis

By Gds International, PRNE
Monday, March 21, 2011

LONDON, March 22, 2011 - Because of the time difference, I, like most of Britain, discovered the
news of the Tohoku earthquake hours after the record-breaking 9.0 magnitude
tremor was recorded 81 miles off the Japanese East Coast - an earthquake so
epic that the resulting tsunami reached across the Pacific and the coasts of
America and New Zealand. But for the rest of the waking world, news about the
unfolding crisis happened instantaneously - because of the amazing reach of
social media.

Since the coastal communities of Mississippi and New Orleans were hit by
hurricane Katrina in 2005, the role social media has played has established
itself as the go-to medium during times of crisis for victims, news and
relief aid. It proved to be an essential tool during natural disasters in
Iceland and Haiti, and now, with the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Back in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina rolled through New Orleans the
coverage reached the world through traditional media outlets like television,
radio and satellite - social media had yet to really get a toe-hold into
mainstream verticals. In 2010, when Haiti was rocked by an earthquake that
reached 7.0 on the Richter Scale those media channels had shifted to Twitter,
Facebook and other social media sites like eBay.

So how does social media help in a crisis like the earthquake in Japan?
Let's look at its effect and how it helps these three distinct groups:


In Japan, as traditional modes of communication like telephone lines were
lost almost immediately after the earthquake struck - social media channels
buoyed. Only an hour after the earthquake, tweets coming out of Tokyo reached
1,200 a minute, according to Mashable (
mashable.com/2011/03/11/japan-tsunami/). Just a few hours after, and
hashtags like #prayforJapan, #earthquake and #tsunami were being tweeted
thousands of times per second (www.poynter.org/latest-news/media-lab/s

After the Haiti earthquake in 2010, US Google developers created Person
Finder (japan.person-finder.appspot.com/?lang=en) for families looking
to discover the health and whereabouts of loved ones. Person Finder was then
adapted for the victims of the New Zealand earthquake and now for those
victims affected in Japan. At last count, Person Finder contains 306,600

News Outlets

In response to the Haiti earthquake, the Guardian ran a story
about how social media outlets like Twitter gave victims a voice to be heard
- news stations like CNN utilized user-generated information like images and
accounts from ground-zero to raise awareness of the crisis.

(Due to the length of these URLs, it may be necessary to copy and paste
these hyperlinks into your Internet browser's URL address field. Remove the
space if one exists.)

"The traffic CNN produces with this strategy makes it obvious that today
the kpb of a news organisation in case of a disaster is not only to report
but also to connect. Giving the victim a voice, helping the victim finding
relevant information, as well as informing the public but also providing them
a possibility to connect with the victim and help," wrote the Guardian

Relief Aid

With such a large scale disaster, getting charitable donations and relief
aid to affected areas is critical - and with the aid of websites like
Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube raising awareness with various
messages, groups and blogs, the opportunities to raise significant funds are
increased. Similarly, social media can make donations that much easier:
people looking to contribute $10 to the cause can do so by texting REDCROSS
to 90999, or for those of us inclined to dabble in Facebook games, gamers can
donate through CityVille, FrontierVille, FarmVille or contribute to Zynga's
efforts to raise $2 million for Save the Children's Japan Earthquake Tsunami
Emergency Fund (
JXIaMUF%5Ct_blank). There is also a Red Cross Facebook campaign
(www.facebook.com/redcross?sk=app_143527638995189%5Ct_blank). In
short, there really are plenty of available channels that were unavailable
only as recently as 2005.

Social media has played more than just a bit-part across recent national
disasters - it has been the driving force. From the ash cloud in Iceland to
the earthquake in New Zealand and now to the earthquake and subsequent
tsunami in Japan, social media has proven to be a game changer.

As the families of victims found on Person Finder will attest, engaging
with social media is a wonderful tool.

Contact: Jake Masan, +44(0)117-921-4774

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