Shortly after the Kansai region was rattled by a magnitude 6.1 earthquake on June 18, photos of the damage started popping up on social media. Tweets showed a bookstore that looked as if it had been turned upside-down, a damaged electronic sign at a train station and shattered glass in front of a ticket booth at Universal Studio Japan. These were shared quickly on the platform, as were countless other shots and videos from Osaka and the surrounding area.
In the hyper-speed media landscape of 2018, Twitter has become many people’s go-to stop for updates on breaking news, whether from established outlets or regular people caught up in the situation. Many in Japan watched last week’s earthquake unfold online, with many posts going viral. These included user @satnfc2, who claimed that a zebra was on the loose following the shake, and @happyura12, who shared a photo of what appeared to be a crack in the city’s Kyocera Dome. Others alleged a train had derailed. Scattered across some sites were posts that accused non-Japanese residents of Osaka of looting convenience stores or poisoning the water supply.
These were all fake. Posts spreading misinformation following the earthquake became so problematic that the Osaka prefectural government told people to beware of baseless information and avoid spreading it further. Other politicians shared similar messages, including Kumamoto Mayor Kazufumi Onishi. And he should know — his city’s 2016 earthquake inspired claims of a lion escaping a zoo along with the same xenophobic rumors that have cropped up in the past seven days.