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News Analysis


How social media can play a vital role during a crisis

How social media can play a vital role during a crisis

By Divya Gandhi, senior digital planner/buyer, M2M

I first heard about the Japan earthquakes on BBC News but I didn’t fully grasp the extent of devastation until later that day when I logged into my Facebook account and saw the comments and links to video content on my newsfeed.

Social media was used in three key ways as events unfolded in Japan. With conventional means of communication cut off, social media allowed people to stay connected. Social sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Mixi (Japan’s most popular social networking site) have been key in allowing people to communicate with loved ones.

Providing real-time updates/sharing prayers and thoughts: Less than one hour after the earthquake, the number of Tweets from Tokyo topped more than 1,200 per minute and 4.5 million Facebook status updates from 3.8 million users across the globe mentioned “Japan,” “earthquake” or “tsunami” (source: Mashable) over that day. Top trending topics on Twitter included #prayforjapan, #japan, #japanquake.

On YouTube, "tsunami" is the #2 rising global search term and, in Japan, the top two rising search terms are “earthquake” and “tsunami”. According to YouTube, a search for tsunami-related videos (English and Japanese) will deliver over 25,000 results from the past week: many videos with over 11 million views (source: YouTube).

Keeping in touch with loved ones: While many areas in Japan have been left without electricity, the internet remains largely unaffected in Japan, making Facebook, Twitter, Mixi and other social media vital sources of communication for friends and family.

Some stories Facebook users have been sharing can be found here:
Jennifer Bride
my brother is in japan, since 1.march. we didn't know whether they were still in takayama, when the earthquake took place. I tried to call him, but he wasn't available. the battery of his mobile phone was empty. fortunately we were able to communicate via facebook and he told me that they are ok. after all, they were far enough away. he now reports regularly via facebook because they are still in japan to 18.march.
Susan Gaulding Clemons, Rockmart, GA
Thank you Face Book !!! (sic) You surpassed the Red Cross and the U.S. Embassy in getting word back to the states about the safety of a dear friend today stationed in Japan.

While stories of friends and family checking in safe come flooding in, there are many still missing. Google created a crisis response page to help people to find friends and family, find access to resources and make donations. People all over the world have been donating money to organisations working with search and rescue teams in Japan using Facebook: it has been key in helping to mobilise groups of people as it surpasses the need for emails and telephone calls for organisational purposes.

Donating money: Many organisations have set up campaigns on Facebook, allowing users to donate money. Causes, a US non-profit organisation, has launched campaigns on Facebook and, at the time of checking, over $7,000 (£4,304) had been donated to Red Cross throught he organisation.

The American Red Cross has launched a texting campaign fronted by actor George Takei (of Star Trek fame). He posted this to his twitter followers: "Today we are all Japanese. Give $10 to help. Text REDCROSS to 90999."

Meanwhile, a partnership between online gaming company Zynga, Facebook and charity Save the Children allows users to donate money by purchasing goods in some of the most popular Facebook games.

Social media has become such an ingrained part of people’s everyday lives: what we have seen is that the role of social media in a natural disaster, both in immediate response and long-term recovery, is vital.

Our thoughts go out to all those affected.

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