What a lovely day today, spring is now come!? Yes, it’s already March, time really flies…! Spring is one of my favourite seasons, and I’m sure everyone has a great memory of this season. Spring in Japan is quite good too, you can see lots of cherry trees in full bloom everywhere, and we usually have a party under the cherry blossoms! On the other hand, whenever this season comes we always remember a certain incident in 2011. As you might remember, the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami hit Tohoku area (east part of Japan) on March 11, then…the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. I’d like to post some stories of how Japanese people used SNS at the time of disaster as a series post until the end of term. Please allow me that posts in this series may contain a bit ugly expression or serious content.
First of a series is a general description of how Japanese people used SNS to contact with their friends, and a small introduction of SNS landscape in Japan before the time of disaster. Oh, I should mention before start that I was actually here in London at that time.
Social networks was undoubtedly crucial tool for both sufferers and non-sufferers at the time of disaster. It was mentioned in the Telegraph; ‘within an hour, more than 1,200 tweets were coming from Tokyo. By the end of Friday [11 March 2011], American time, a total of 246,075 Twitter posts using the term “earthquake” had been posted’. The another data I found also shows that number of twitter users in Japan in March 2011 was 17,571 thousands which is a 37 percent rise over the preceding month. Number of users of Facebook and domestic SNS called Mixi were also recorded high rates compared with previous month. They used SNS in several ways; some people accessed website by mobile phone to gather information because they were not able to use other devices due to power cut; some users collect the confirmation of survives by using hashtag; yet the most posted/shared tweets were information about the place where they could refuge; where foods or drinks were provided; and where buildings were demolished.
Tell you one of the most interesting true story. A old women in Kesen-numa (where huge tsunami hit) worked at facilities for the disabled children. When tsunami came, she sought refuge in tall building nearby their place with her co-workers and disabled students (aged 0-5). But, tsunami attacked the building where they were refuge in, and around the building was demolished. So, they are isolated. Soon after, somehow the area turned into a sea of fire. They wanted to call emergency call, yet telephone network was down… But, a old women was fortunately able to send only one email to her son that ‘I’m in a sea of fire, no way to escape, may die’. Her son was not in the disaster area, so he tweetes ‘Please retweet! There is over 400 people of refuge in XXX building. If someone around, please go to help’. This tweet was retweeted hugely, and once, the deputy mayor of Tokyo found this tweet, and he immediately contact with the Fire and Disaster Management Agency to fly helicopters for rescue them. As a result of this, all people in that building was rescued before worst-case situation.
Likewise, lots of refuges who were unable to call emergency call tweeted like ‘I’m here XXX, help’ with hashtag, or some people who were unable to contact with their friends or family posted on facebook as ‘I’m alive!, escaped in XXX’. That kinda phenomena was huge impact not only in Tohoku area but also in Tokyo, and helped them many ways.
There was another highly praised function that showed the strength of social media; Japanese users posted about how serious the situation it was, along with uploads of mobile videos on Youtube that they had recorded. These videos watched and shared by hundreds of thousands of people on several digital devices before the mass media had picked up on them and rebroadcast the footage. It was impossible to cover and record footage of disaster by mass media due to the fact that afflicted area was huge (half part of Japan), it never happened for breaking news in the past era! I myself was watching/checking these videos all that time to know what’s happened in Japan..
For example, this video below uploaded just a few hours after the earthquake happened and spread out to all over the globe.
And like this. This documentary on Channel4 contained many footage uploaded on youtube.
After 11th of March 2011, the number of twitter and smart phone users was significantly increased. Because, everyone realised how social networkings could be crucial tool at the time of emergency. So, this is a general introduction of how Japanese people used SNS at the time of disaster. Next post will be a story of how mass media used social media to broadcast news at the time of power cut and the network was down.