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The Role of Online Media in Japan Earthquake Published: Thursday, 17 March 2011 Hajar Yusof investigates the prominent role of the online medium during the recent Japanese tsunami and earthquake. While in previous times, we have waged wars with weaponry; it would appear after Japan’s catastrophic tsunami on Friday, we are now at battle with the unforgiving forces of Mother Nature. Triggered by 8.9 earthquake, the 10-meter wave swept through Japan’s coastal towns to devastating effect, forcibly shifting homes and ships, destroying populations I can only imagine were heavily reliant on fishing and agriculture as a means of survival. Prime Minister Naoto Kan, an otherwise stoic man, delivered an emotional speech following the nationwide devastation, recognizing the looming threat of a nuclear meltdown, and urging his country to stay united amid their worst national crisis since World War II. Of course, like everyone else, I was shocked by the sheer magnitude of the disaster. Despite phone lines and water supplies being cut, a large number of Japanese civilians turned to social media and online publishing platforms as a means of communicating and documenting the tragic events as they unfolded. Micro-blogging site Twitter was the preferred medium of choice (apparently more popular than Facebook in Japan) racking up 1,200 tweets a minute from Tokyo with hash tags #prayforjapan #earthquake and #tsunami emerging as some of the site’s trending topics. Interestingly enough, I first heard of the earthquake through a California-based fashion blogger on Twitter. She reported on the earthquake almost immediately after the aftershocks rippled through Tokyo. “Huge earthquake in Tokyo!! Still feel so shaky, that was the middle of street with Nylon Japan crew...” (via @rumi_neely) She later tweeted: “Totally apocalyptic scenes on the drive back, trains stopped randomly in their tracks and eternally snaking lines for buses” (via @rumi_neely) “Never been so scared in my life, constant sirens wailing outside are sickening #prayforjapan” (via @rumi_neely) Maki Tanaka, a graphic designer based in Tokyo, provided incredibly resourceful information on her twitter page, relaying live updates from press conferences in Tokyo, translated in English and Spanish. “—Press Conference LIVE: Reactors 1, 2 and 3 have been cooled with seawater. However, they can’t decide where the smoke is coming from.” (via @MakiTanaka) “Good news: 9.700 survivors found in Minamisanriku.” (via @MakiTanaka_) I thanked her for her live updates, in which she replied: “I’m glad I can help someway. and thanks to you for your concern.” (via @MakiTanaka_) Today she tweeted: “ Thursday 06:05 03ºC Tokyo. Getting ready to head to the hangars again. Essential supplies keep arriving and many helping hands are needed.” (via @MakiTanaka_ ) In addition to live updates, many took to the micro-blogging site to spread useful information on relief and aid provided in the Japanese capital. "Place to stay tonight for FREE in Tokyo: Meiji Univ., Rikkyo Univ. Shinagawa Prince Hotel those who cannot going back home tonight in Tokyo." (via @ask9)

“Dial 171, leave a message with your home number. Anyone who knows ur home number can check your safety." (via @beerintokyo) “Shelters have been open to people stranded in Tokyo tonight. The full list here. #Tokyoearthquake” (via @TimeOutTokyo) Twitter user Masafumi Matsumoto (@mma323) took the time to create an informative blog post specifically for non-Japanese speakers just hours after the quake. “English speakers living in Japan, please see this page for post-quake safety tips. #prayforjapan” (via @mma323) An American living in Asakusa, Tokyo posted pictures on his Twitter page of low-stocked supermarkets ( and an office in turmoil, shaken after the aftershocks ( all of which taken within a 3-hour margin after the quake. While international news wires reported on the facts, sites such as Twitter provided an insight to the personal trauma endured by those at the scene, with updates posted in real-time to the rest of the world. Videos were also posted on the web at a rapid rate, and by 9pm Malaysian time, 6 hours after the earthquake struck, 27 videos were posted on Youtube’s “Citizen Tube” channel. A spine-chilling video posted on Vimeo ( captured the tsunami streaming into a small Japanese town, and within minutes gathered enough momentum to sweep cars, ships and homes from the ground, floating on the murky water like toys. Other videos documented the intense aftershocks and blaring sirens that echoed around Tokyo, bearing an eerie resemblance to those sounded in World War II. Internet giant Google also played their part by creating a ‘virtual crisis center’ through their bilingual Japanese and English people finder service. Five hours after earthquake hit, a total 4100 records were registered, and by Sunday 81,000 messages were posted by people either seeking information or offering support. During CNN’s coverage of the event, reporter Kyung Lah made an interesting observation; she noted that Japan was arguably one of the most “wired” populations in the world, where almost everyone had access to an Internet connection or camera. And she was right; this was accurately reflected in the swift dispersal of information and images across various social media. The idea of citizen journalism has been often met with great deal of skepticism, some arguing that there is no credibility in loosely labeling anyone with a camera a ‘journalist’. However, amid times of crisis, there is some authenticity in crediting these citizen journalists. CNN, for example, have embraced usergenerated content through their CNN iReport channel, encouraging a more interactive way of presenting news. Particularly during the quake, they regularly quoted users on Twitter, using tweets to present stories of human interest. I was impressed by the efficiency of using online platforms in times of managing crisis, but more than that, I was inspired by the camaraderie between those affected in Japan and the greater online community. Social media such as Twitter and Facebook allowed us to unite universally, sharing information, aiding others and engaging in an on-going dialogue. That being said, my heart goes out to all the people of Japan who have been displaced or lost loved ones through such a truly unfortunate tragedy. For Malaysians who wish to donate to the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, please contact World Vision Malaysia at 03-78806414 or mail your cheques (indicate behind each cheque ‘Japan Quake’) to World Vision Malaysia Berhad, PO Box 8171, Kelana Jaya, 46783 Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

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