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Much like the natural disasters in recent years in Haiti and Chile, the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan was another amazing example of our changing media landscape. The true “breaking news” didn’t come from television or radio. Real-time updates flooded the internet within seconds of the event. Mixi, the most popular Japanese social networking site, Facebook and Twitter are playing the most significant role of disseminating information to the rest of the connected world.

In fact, 12,000 tweets per minute, for lack of a better term, flooded out of Tokyo during the first day. Trending topics such as “Fukushima” and “Sundai” as well as hashtags like #prayforjapan, #japan, #japanquake and #tsunami began appearing on most social networking sites, helping those searching for information to find it quickly.

Mobile phones in Japan were basically silenced due to the overwhelming demand on the networks, so concerned Americans, Japanese-Americans and emigrants residing in other countries used social media find updates on their relatives still living or travelling in Japan. Google launched a “Person Finder” allowing people affected to post updates of who they were searching for on a unified platform. More than 7000 posts were logged during the aftermath of the first day.

Those involved in the relief efforts are using Twitter to post information about aid and shelter locations, where available emergency phones lines are located, and altered train schedules.

Journalists aren’t able to get to hardest hit areas, so they are using social media posts and reports from those cities to get updates to supplement their coverage. YouTube video is a main provider of footage of the events that unfolded in Japan. During the first day 9000 videos related to the earthquake and 7000 videos related to the tsunami were posted.

Despite the tragic nature of these events, this is the true magic and humanity to be found in social media. These videos, Tweets and Facebook posts will become part of the history of the event, a collective record of what unfolded. The internet was designed to connect people with each other, and social media provides the channels for people to communicate–even under the worst of circumstances.


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