Social Media and Disaster Relief

March 13, 2011 at 9:18 pm Leave a comment

Seemingly overnight large news corporations have switched to a new source for many of their stories.  We saw it happen recently with conflicts in Egypt, and now again with the unfortunate disaster in Japan. Social media is quickly taking center stage as the severity of the damage caused by the tsunami in Japan increases. If you have not caught the latest results of the record 8.9 magnitude earthquake you can learn more by following CNN’s live blog.

The Public as Reporters

Social media has allowed the public to become the main reporters in recent years, and the disaster in Japan in no exclusion to this trend. Below are just some of the hundreds of videos uploaded to various video sharing websites such as YouTube, UStream, and countless others.

Toyko, March 11 2011, Earthquake

Toyko earthquake AS IT HAPPENED 3/11/2011

Beyond video coverage, a significant spike in the microblogging service, Twitter, occurred shortly after the tsunami reached Japan. At one point in time the Twitter use in Toyko reached 1,200 tweets per minute according to Tweet-O-Meter. Not only was it a source of delivering the latest news, but with most of the phone lines disabled throughout Japan it was the only source of communication. Primary communication with also established through Facebook and Japan’s social networking site, Mixi.

Social Media to Help

In massive disaster situations such as this, social media has also found a great niche in providing numerous types of support. In recent years, the American Red Cross has found developing a texting campaign to raise money for victims of disasters. The campaign raised over $20 million for Haiti last year, and is again being launched for Japan.  The American Red Cross has also implemented a Facebook campaign to raise money. This was developed using the Causes application platform within Facebook. The American Red Cross and Apple’s iTunes have also teamed it to help Japan. In the iTunes Store, users will find a link to donate to the American Red Cross, and 100% of the proceeds go towards the American Red Cross’s efforts.

The American Red Cross is not the only organization actively raising funds for disaster relief in Japan. Zynga, maker of famous social games such as FarmVille, CityVille, and many other “ville” games, is continuing their campaign for social good. For example, proceeds from radishes in Farmville go towards the Save the Children’s Japan Earthquake Tsunami Emergency Fund.

Finally, Google has taken a slightly different approach to providing social good. Google developed a similar application for other recent disasters, and possible the most helpful out of all of the resources. The Google Crisis Center is full of valuable resources from anyone involved in the incident. It provides links to many different disaster relief websites, links to alert agencies, and the latest news regarding the disaster.

I believe the most interesting and useful application Google has developed is Person Finder. The Person Finder application allows users to enter details about a lost individual or report an individual as missing. At the time of publishing this article, the Person Finder application was tracking around 130,000 records. Applications such as Person Finder can be crucial when a disaster such as Japan recent tsunami displaces many individuals.


While the recent disaster in Japan may seem very distant from our nation, the recent advances in the reliability and availability of social media resources has brought the entire world closer. We now can provide immediate help to disaster relief efforts, and more actively join in the conversation with individuals affected globally.


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