The tragic earthquake and subsequent tsunami that ravaged Japan last week sparked yet another social media revolution, not unlike the onslaught of updates during the uprising in Egypt.
This time, however, I felt like there was more harm than good being done online. Highly sensationalized Facebook and Twitter posts crowded my social networking feeds, leading me to believe Japan was split into four pieces, completely immersed in water and exploding entirely from nuclear meltdown. I found most people were posting in all capital letters, hoping their tweets were the ones to get retweeted. I felt like they were trying to capitalize on the misfortune of people living in Japan.
Every other photo or video post was labelled “THE SHOCKING PHOTOS YOU HAVEN’T SEEN OF JAPAN” or “SCARIEST FLOODING VIDEO EVER.” Every link I followed seem to take me to the same places. It was all very CNN.
The reaction online to the tragedy in Japan wasn’t all bad. I’m not going to bash every Japan-related tweeter and Facebook poster. Not everyone was in it for their hits counter. I think the tsunami opened up a lot of eyes across the world, and did allow people to get as close a look at true tragedy without actually hopping a plane to Japan. Even if people were being dramatic and hoping for hits, their message was effective and word spread rapidly, meaning the most amount of people possible knew what was happening.
I found the words of one PR Newswire reporter interesting, when he or she outlined the three things social media did well throughout the crisis. (http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/japan-and-the-critical-three-ways-social-media-plays-during-a-crisis-118445354.html)
Social networks proved to be an effective way of connecting victims and helping them find their loved ones, as well as letting them know support was out there (notable is the #prayforJapan hashtag that trended on Twitter for four days), as well as getting information from Japan itself and letting people know where to send relief aid.
Even YouTube and Google got in on the Japanese assistance effort. Google revamped their “Person Finder,” useful during the Haiti earthquake, to help connect people with their loved ones online and find out if they were okay. YouTube gave people in Japan and around the world a chance to post video logs, calling out for lost family members, trying to locate them, and offering words of support. They linked their channel with Google, making it even more accessible to people across the world.
I think this is a very effective use of social media. It is a great example of what an amazing tool the internet is, not just for connecting people, but for connecting people when they need it the most.