INF 335W Project 2 - Disaster & Social Media

Disaster & Social Media

Japanese headlines following the 2011 earthquake.

Disaster management in major cities is an ongoing hot topic of debate in the international community. During a time where we not only have to plan for natural disasters, but also acts of terrorism, it is critical for government leaders to successfully employ the use of social media in order to protect their communities and prevent widespread panic. The two countries that I have researched regarding disaster management and social media are Australia and Japan. In both countries, the disasters have been of natural causes including tsunamis, earthquakes, and floods. While both countries have vastly different cultures, they surprisingly have come to many of the same conclusions regarding the advantages and drawbacks of alerting their communities of disaster updates via government social media accounts.

In the extremely tech savvy country of Japan, almost all of its inhabitants have (and use) some sort of social media account. For many Japanese people, their social media usage is primarily on Twitter. Through my research regarding Japan’s social media usage, I found a case study conducted in Tsubaka, Japan regarding the usefulness of government Twitter accounts to conduct disaster management. As Kaigo states in their research paper, “although the prosocial effects of Twitter usage have been verified in the Tsukuba city case during the Great East Japan Earthquake, social media contributed to the dissemination of false rumors as well” (Kaigo 2012, p. 31). The study finds early on that while Twitter is great at distributing disaster and relief information quickly and easily, it also allows false information to be spread like wildfire. However, this drawback seems to be a decent price to pay as Twitter is sometimes the only accessible form of communication for Japanese people during times of crisis. “During the Great East Japan Earthquake, voice communication through normal telephone lines was reconfirmed to be difficult in the affected areas, however Internet access through mobile devices was found to be relatively robust and resilient in comparison to normal telecommunication channels” (Kaigo 2012, p. 32). Twitter enabled civilians in all areas, affected and non-affected, to successfully communicate their well-being and status to their families and loved-ones when they otherwise had no ability to.

A road completely flooded during the January 2011 Victoria floods.

Australia, on the other-hand, is more similar to the United States and the UK in terms of social media usage (the popularity of Facebook, etc.). While a majority of its inhabits use a social media account on a day to day basis, there are some portions of the country that have spotty data coverage compared to the more populated cities. The research regarding the Victorian floods in Australia has not returned as much of a highly favorable viewpoint regarding disaster management via social media than the case study in Tsubaka, Japan had found. Compared to Japan’s overwhelming Twitter user population, in Australia “Twitter usage was far less popular with only 6% of respondents indicating that they had used it to follow information on the floods. This result suggests that those people who use Facebook do not use Twitter but it does not tell us anything about the use of Twitter before, during or after a disaster” (Bird 2012, p. 31). Bird also suggests that although there were quite a few advantages of disseminating disaster management information via social media, “[it] will not replace traditional forms of hazard and risk communication, but rather, provides another useful tool that shares the responsibility of reducing risk, facilitates community involvement and empowers people to take action” (Bird 2012, p. 32).


Bird, D., Ling, M., & Haynes, K. (2012). Flooding Facebook-the use of social media during the Queensland and Victorian floods. The Australian Journal of Emergency Management, 27(1), 27.

Dufty, N. (2012). Using social media to build community disaster resilience. The Australian Journal of Emergency Management, 27(1), 40.

Kaigo, M. (2012). Social media usage during disasters and social capital: Twitter and the Great East Japan earthquake. Keio Communication Review, 34(1), 19-35.

Peary, B. D., Shaw, R., & Takeuchi, Y. (2012). Utilization of social media in the east Japan earthquake and tsunami and its effectiveness. Journal of Natural Disaster Science, 34(1), 3-18.

Jenny Plunkett

Applications Engineer @ Arm