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Sorting through information after the quake

by Rick Martin

In the wake of the tragic earthquake and subsequent tsunami last Friday, people in Japan — and indeed all over the world — have been scrambling to sort through the news in search of information they can trust.

In the first few hours after the quake, telephone service was disrupted in some areas and restricted to emergency access only in others. Internet access was interrupted for many as well.

At the time, I couldn’t make any calls, and my Internet was not restored until late Friday night. During outages I used the Net connection on an Amazon Kindle to get messages to friends and family, as my mobile phone was rendered all but useless.

In those first few hours after the earthquake, I found Twitter was by far the most reliable source of information available. And in the days since, a few voices have emerged to play a critical role in disseminating news in English, contributing updates and translations. Their efforts have been tireless and cannot be praised enough.

Steve Herman of Voice of America (@W7VOA) is on the ground near the affected areas, and is sending out frequent messages about the situation that he’s witnessing there. Martyn Williams of IDG News Service (@martyn_williams) was sending early updates as well, and is definitely one to follow as a reliable source as the situation progresses.

Reporters on the ground are great, but collating and translating information is an invaluable service as well. Standing out from the crowd is Twitter user @shioyama, and the rest of the the outstanding Global Voices team. They have set up a Japan earthquake hub and post updates frequently. Time Out Tokyo, besides posting frequent updates to Twitter (@TimeOutTokyo), has a number of live reports, safety information and photographs on their website.

Blogger Michael Gakuran (@gakuranman) is posting updates on his blog (gakuranman.com ), including links to blackout schedules and other essential notifications. Similarly, Marcy Sensei (@marcysensei) is updating her feed with translations. Roy Berman (aka @mutantfroginc) has a good stream of updates, as well as amazingly informative information on his blog, including an explanation of who can and cannot give blood in Japan.

Individuals who speak languages other than English or Japanese can visit imperium-donuzium.org/ where you can monitor Twitter updates in a wide range of languages including Spanish, French, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese and many more.

There is also a bot collating information from government sources (@earthquake_jp), which we all pray soon remains forever silent.

As for Facebook, it has started providing important updates in an alert box at the top of its homepage. Be sure to check it out for important announcements.

Columbia journalism Prof. Sree Sreenivasan has also collected an amazing list of resources on a single Facebook page.

One other page to watch is that of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is posting updates based on information from the Japanese authorities). When searching for information on Fukushima reactors, please ensure that the source is reliable.

Perhaps more importantly though, expats living in Japan should visit the Facebook group titled “Confirm that you are safe.” Click the “Attending” button, which lets everyone know that you’re accounted for, and invite any friends from whom you may not have heard yet. Similarly, Google has set up an online “people finder” app, just as it did for the recent earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. You can find it in the lower right of its 2011 Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Crisis Response page.

While we’re all quick to pat social media on the back, don’t forget to check out live streams from mainstream media organizations such as NHK, TBS, and FNN, which are conveniently grouped together on the Tokyo Post website, with which I am involved. There are also English streams from the BBC, NHK World and Yokosu. Al Jazeera has a steady flow of level-headed reports on Japan too.

Given that electricity is at a premium and rolling blackouts are in effect, it would be wise to consult the above mentioned resources only when necessary — at least until we’re out of the proverbial woods.

As with any disaster, individuals looking to donate to relief should be on the lookout for fraudulent websites and scammers. I’ve assembled a list of reputable organizations where you can donate, which includes donation options for a number of countries. Donations can be made via the Red Cross using a credit card, PayPal, iTunes, Amazon or Google Checkout. A number of Japanese services offer donation options too, such as Yahoo!, Mixi, Gree, Hatena and Tabelog. (For more, see www.bit.ly/japanesegive. Bloggers can embed the entire list on their own website if they wish to share it.)

Other Twitter users that you should keep an eye on are @Tom_Vincent, @Goldie_luvmj, @chicoharlan of the Washington Post, @daiwaka of the Wall Street Journal, @stevenagata, and The Japan Times staff. You can find more on a single Twitter list.

Rick Martin is a contributer to Gizmag.com. Read more of his work at 1rick.com.