The Japanese earthquake: how did the Internet respond?

4 minute read

On Friday 11th March 2011 the UK woke up to news that there had been an 8.9 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Japan. A tsunami quickly followed, devastating parts of Japan. But how did the Internet, and more specifically social media, respond to this nature disaster?

On a typical morning I check Twitter and Facebook when I wake up. Twitter especially has become a great source of finding out the latest news from around the world – from the likes of The Telegraph and the BBC telling me everything I need to know. On Friday I woke up to see the following and knew that this was to dominate the news in the coming days.

Throughout Friday more news came through from all major news corporations – videos, images and eyewitness reports. While traditional marketing channels such as television always exist to report on news stories the difference this time – certainly something I noticed – was that social media allowed users around the world to see and read about events in Japan in real time. Channels such as the BBC allowed users to watch video footage as it came in, and updated their Twitter pages frequently using relevant keywords which quickly became the trending topics of the day.

Let’s not forget; while for us the Internet told us what was happening thousands of miles away, in Japan it was being used as a source of essential information. As phone lines went down and Japanese mobile phone networks struggled people were turning to the Internet to tell people they were safe and report on what was happening. Skype proved invaluable and Google added the Tsunami alert to the homepage of their website and quickly set up the Google People Finder, which had been used previously in disasters such as in New Zealand back in February 2011.

Regular tweets came from the likes of TimeOutTokyo, constantly updating followers with essential information such as road closures and Tweet-O-Meter reported that over 1,200 tweets per minute were coming from the Japanese capital of Tokyo. In previous years communications would have proved difficult but in today’s age the Internet has allowed people to talk and share their experiences quickly.

The events of March 11th 2011 have unfortunately led to problems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, with media coverage widening as the week has continued. The story has been followed closely across the Internet, TV and other news sources. For example BreakingNews have updated followers on the situation at the plant, from the news that the pressure was rising inside the plant, to the announcement that the radiation levels released are 400 times over the legal limit. It’s likely that this story will continue to dominate the news, if the situation continues, and the Internet has again allowed for the story to be fully documented in real time, across the world.

It certainly appears that there has been a revolution in the way we receive and read global news, Mashable this week even reported that for the first time more people are getting their news online than via newspapers. The Internet is allowing people to see a news story as it unfolds, whereas a few years ago we would have relied on more traditional news channels. Pivotal moments in history are now being documented to a greater detail and in real time, changing the way we hear and understand world events. Did you use social media to find out what was happening in Japan? Which news sources did you use? Let us know in the comments box below.