National / Media | Japan Pulse

Recent flooding highlights power of social media in a disaster

by Patrick ST. Michel

Contributing Writer

Online users in Japan followed the storms that lead to devastating floods and landslides in the western part of the country closely as they unfolded last week. The topic remained central to discussion on social media as the days went on and the full extent of the damage became clear.

Many sprung into action as scenes from affected areas became more evident, and the incident highlighted the changing way in which internet publications and users themselves respond to events such as this. Specifically, it shows how good netizens have become at supporting those impacted by natural disasters, both during and in the aftermath of what happens.

As it became clear early on how rough the situation was going to get, online news sites and Twitter users started sharing guides on what to do during a flood. This is becoming more common during the early stages of disasters — similar articles were published quickly after the recent earthquake in Osaka — and sites such as Buzzfeed quickly shared pieces detailing what to do in a flood zone, how to keep things disinfected during such an emergency and even information on toilets.

Social media users shared links to other guides, including information for foreign residents. A Facebook group geared toward tourists even became an information center. In the days that followed, more and more information was published online, including places mothers with babies should go during evacuations and locations where people can go to access running water, among others.

Television broadcasters also acted quickly, but in a situation like the one that unfolded in western Japan, speed and access is vital. The internet provides both, and information on TV can still be slow or misguided. One of the more noteworthy criticisms to appear online was aimed at Nippon TV, which aired an episode of “The Music Day” rather than coverage of the heavy rain. Many registered their disgust on Twitter.

Nevertheless, that criticism paled in comparison to the outrage that followed the screening of footage taken by a Fuji TV cameraman who kept shooting instead of helping a man rescue an elderly gentleman from a vehicle that was sinking.

More importantly, Twitter proved to be vital for many trapped due to rising waters. Many started using hashtags — listing specific places and words such as hanran (“flooding”) — to draw attention to areas where people were stuck. Netizens used Twitter as a general way to keep people online informed about the situation in hard-to-reach corners, while some even used the social media platform to ask for help more directly.

To make sure things ran smoothly, some even made guidelines on how to avoid mucking up these efforts. Once again, many applauded sites such as Twitter during these disasters, as they moved quicker than more traditional platforms and allowed anyone a chance to note that they needed help.

People residing outside of Western Japan were soon seeking out ways to help raise money to help relief efforts in the area. Yahoo! Japan offered up the first effort to really gain attention, with a system that allowed contributors to use credit cards or T-Points accumulated from everyday purchases.

It helped that Hikakin, the most popular YouTuber domestically, made a video of himself donating a large amount of money via Yahoo!, which quickly climbed up the video sharing sites trending charts, inspiring others to also contribute some money (or virtual points). He inspired other YouTubers to make similar clips, while English-language uploads encouraged viewers to keep the situation in mind, while also providing regional sites collecting donations (of which there are many, including one to get more portable toilets into the region).

Celebrities did what they could online to help people out, too. Blouson Chiemi transformed her Twitter account into a place to disseminate helpful info and updates, from guides to flooding to updates on road conditions. Founding X Japan member Yoshiki further spread awareness of places where fans could donate funds, while also contributing a large amount of his own. Other notable names also did what they could to spread info, or even just offer words of encouragement to those in areas hit by the rain.

The next step focuses on actual relief activities, which many online have been asking about. Those are starting to appear, with local cities asking for assistance and even mascots helping guide people to the proper organizations. The Huffington Post Japan made a guide on how to go about doing it, including info on which clothes to wear.

There’s one area where further help might not be needed — the construction of paper cranes, which was the topic of debate recently, specifically on how they are more of a hindrance than a help. However, other avenues are well represented online, a reflection of the positive power that social media can have in a disaster.