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August 2011

The Great East Japan Earthquake: How Net Users Utilized Social Media?

Ayako Shigyo

At and after the Great East Japan Earthquake, social media such as Twitter, mixi, and Facebook were actively utilized for acquiring information regarding the earthquake, along with television, newspapers, and other mass media. The author conducted an online group interview survey in order to objectively grasp net users’ actual usage of and attitudes toward them, conception of television and social media, as well as the change in the significance of these media,

The target of this survey included not only those suffering serious damages in the afflicted areas but also net users in their 20s to 40s living in areas far from the epicenter such as Kanto and Koshinetsu districts. Questions on how they used the media when the earthquake occurred and for about a week after the tremor were posted on the Internet bulletin. Categorization of the following four groups were used: (1) Twitter heavy users (those who had been using Twitter before the quake and/or those both viewing and feeding tweets), (2) Twitter light users (those who started using Twitter after the quake and/or those only viewing tweets), (3) mothers anxious about the nuclear accident (those highly concerned with the nuclear issues and/or those with primary school or pre-school children), and (4) digital natives (heavy users of multiple social media.)

The following was revealed. Users employed social media as a supplementary tool to television. Types of information they obtained via social media were “personal information” such as safety of family members or friends, “local information” such as information on traffic and planned blackouts, and “specialized information” such as information on nuclear issues. As to efficacy, social media allowed users to access to a large amount of diverse information in real time, acquire highly credible information from official accounts, and get emotional support by empathizing, comforting and exchanging emotions each other.

Heavy users of social media adeptly utilized different characteristics of television and social media; they are eager to choose and judge information by themselves by fully exercising their information literacy, showing an ongoing paradigm shift from “passive information collection” to “active information collection.

Thus, social media displayed its efficacy as a disaster tool. However, this developing, infant tool also revealed weakness including confusions caused by instant spread of false information. Given this, what is expected for television of today is to provide accurate and trustworthy information promptly based on the fact that information aired on television can be widely diffused through social media.

The NHK Monthly Report on Broadcast Research


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