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Social Media Use during the 2011 Japan Earthquake: How Twitter Transforms the Locus of Crisis Communication

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Social Media Use during the 2011 Japan Earthquake: How Twitter Transforms the Locus of Crisis Communication

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This article explores social media use during Japan's 2011 earthquake. In the era of social media, this earthquake provides an opportunity for analysing the role of communication during a crisis. To explain how social media use transforms the locus of crisis communication, we collected sufficient data on tweets in Japan from the Twitter public timeline during the earthquake and examined the Japanese government's Twitter account and its URLs. The results indicate that crisis communication on Twitter was led by peer-to-peer communication and relied on peer-generated information. In addition, the government's traditional leadership role in exercising tight control over crises and facilitating disaster communication was not clearly apparent on Twitter. By examining the shift in the locus of crisis communication through social media, this study provides new insights into the current use of social media.
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Seong Eun Cho, Kyujin Jung and Han Woo Park
Abstract
This article explores social media use during Japan’s 2011 earthquake. In the era
of social media, this earthquake provides an opportunity for analysing the role of
communication during a crisis. To explain how social media use transforms the locus
of crisis communication, we collected sufcient data on tweets in Japan from the Twitter
public timeline during the earthquake and examined the Japanese government’s Twitter
account and its URLs. The results indicate that crisis communication on Twitter was led
by peer-to-peer communication and relied on peer-generated information. In addition,
the government’s traditional leadership role in exercising tight control over crises and
facilitating disaster communication was not clearly apparent on Twitter. By examining
the shift in the locus of crisis communication through social media, this study provides
new insights into the current use of social media.
The current popularity of social media and their role in several disasters and events
worldwide have raised new issues associated with crisis communication strategies. Through
social media, the public’s interest in peer-to-peer or citizen-centred communication has
increased sharply, and the top-down pattern of crisis communication may have been
replaced by a peer-to-peer form (Hsu et al., 2013; Bunyavejchewin, 2012; Sinnappan
et al., 2010). Although many studies have examined social media use during crises,
few have considered the question of how the role of traditional leadership facilitated
by government organisations and mainstream media outlets is transformed within social
media. Therefore, this study lls this gap in the literature by exploring both peer-to-
peer communication in crises and crisis communication management by governments
through social media. Through a URL analysis of tweets by the Japanese government
during the 2011 earthquake, this study examines the types of information resources on
which the public relies during crises to provide a better understanding of the shift in
the locus of crisis communication.
In particular, this study provides an up-to-date analysis of crisis communication
through social media. In addition, the event provides evidence that when mainstream
communication channels fail to function, Twitter can play an important role as an
alternative beyond that of a supplementary communication channel. Immediately after the
earthquake, no xed or mobile phone services were available, but people could access
social networking sites through mobile devices. During the crisis, Twitter served as a
primary communication channel that provided earthquake information from damaged
areas directly. In this regard, the study extends the literature on crisis communication
by exploring the role of social media as a major communication channel, rather than
as an alternative.
SOCIAL MEDIA USE DURING JAPAN’S 2011
EARTHQUAKE: HOW TWITTER TRANSFORMS
THE LOCUS OF CRISIS COMMUNICATION
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No. 149 — November 2013
The article begins by reviewing the theoretical arguments concerning information
dissemination and the critical role of social media in crisis communication. It then
provides a theoretical framework derived from three research questions relating to
information exchanges, peer-to-peer acquisition through social media and the traditional
leadership role of government organisations. The article goes on to explain the research
design and methods, present the results, and then explore the theoretical implications
of the research and look at some interesting avenues for future research.
Information dissemination via social media
Japan’s earthquake started at 2.46 p.m. on 11 March 2011, in the South Kanto area,
which includes Miyagi, Fukushima, Iwate and northern Ibaraki as well as Tokyo,
Ibaraki and Chiba. Immediately after the earthquake, both xed and mobile telephone
connections were interrupted, and people lost the immediate means to communicate
with their family members, friends and acquaintances. Aftershocks continued for more
than a month, and the radiation leakage from nuclear power plants became a big issue
worldwide. Two days after the earthquake (13 March 2011), there was a warning of
an explosion at the rst Fukushima nuclear power plant, and the employees were
exposed to radiation. Despite these ongoing events, Japanese people, while fearful,
returned to their daily lives within a week. Twitter broke the news about the earthquake
approximately 20 minutes before the mainstream media (http://estima.wordpress.
com/2011/04/02/2261). After ofcial reports by the mainstream media, people engaged
in personal communication mainly through social media.
News about natural disasters distributed through social media
The last several years have witnessed several disasters and worldwide tragedies. The
noteworthy feature is that such natural disasters and catastrophes have induced increased
attention to social media because there is clear evidence that, thanks to hyperlinked
networks and the openness of posted messages, social media can play an important
role as a media channel for immediately conveying relevant information before it is
reported in the mainstream media (American Red Cross, 2011; Hermida, 2010; Pew
Research Center, 2011; Ungerleider, 2011). For example, the Sichuan earthquake in
2008 was rst reported on Twitter, and the news of the airplane crash in the Hudson
River was also broken on Twitter (by a ferry passenger).
Before the public fully recognised the serious damage caused by the earthquake,
Twitter users were already posting their earthquake experiences – for example, ‘holy
cow, I AM in Japan … earthquake, earthquake right now!’ (@bacho***, 11 March
2011). It is noteworthy that this use of social media extended crisis communication
beyond the immediately affected areas. The abrupt message posted by @bacho*** came
from a foreigner who was in Japan. His English-language message was immediately
spread by his followers and others across the world.
News about natural disasters distributed through social medial is not limited to
national boundaries. Miguel Rios (@miguelrios), an expert in data visualisation, showed
the most active dissemination of information between Korea and Japan during the 2011
earthquake (Wikitree, 2011). For instance, the Korean Twitter timeline immediately
and continuously responded to the earthquake: ‘I cannot reach to my aunt … if
someone lives there or knows what is going on around Yamakata, please let me know!’
(@neot***, 11 March 2011) and ‘In order to enable those who initially need to have
an emergency call to Japan, please refrain from inappropriate calls!’ (@kimmi***,
11 March 2011). Because Korea is geographically, socially, culturally and historically
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the country closest to Japan, the Korean public’s reactions may have been inevitable.
Despite this, it is noteworthy that through Twitter, Korean users attempted to directly
verify the safety of Koreans living in Japan. Koreans in Japan posted their current
situation and Japanese news via Twitter.
Crisis communication through social media
Social media have developed as an important communication channel (Barnett, 2011).
Mäkinen and Kuira (2008) argue that social media play a critical role in the absence
of the mainstream media during national crises. More specically, they examined the
case in which the government of Kenya announced the ban of live broadcasts on
30 December 2007, to contain the spread of controversies surrounding the outcomes of
its presidential elections. In the past, people generally relied on the mainstream media
for information during crises because they could obtain clues and information about
their acquaintances’ safety and welfare only through news reports, regardless of their
access to telephone services, and could share emotional support indirectly (Perez-Lugo,
2004). This meant that they tended to rely not on direct communication but rather on
indirect communication through the mainstream media.
The advent of social media, however, has answered the public’s need for personal
and direct communication as well as for information about their safety and welfare
during crises. Although people still rely partly on the mainstream media to acquire crisis
information, gradually they have increased their reliance on social media such as Twitter
and Facebook. According to Bruns et al. (2011), Twitter facilitates diverse types of
communication activities while playing a role as an ofcial information source. In their
study, Twitter users discussed crisis situations, shared responses and experiences, and
exchanged help and fundraising information by engaging in peer-to-peer communication
instead of using information in ofcial government tweets.
In addition, tweets during a crisis or disaster differ from those in ordinary times.
Again, context-free and self-oriented messages can decrease sharply during crises,
whereas goal-driven and information-oriented ones are likely to increase (Naaman et al.,
2010). Further, there are corresponding increases in re-tweets and decreases in replies
(Heverin and Zach, 2010; Hughes and Palen, 2009). Although Twitter users rely less
on tweets from the mainstream media, they do use goal-specic sites such as Google
Maps, Weather.com (provider of meteorological information) and YouTube (facilitator
of photo/video sharing), which frequently are linked to original tweets (Sinnappan et
al., 2010). These ndings verify that social media users are more likely to rely on
peer-to-peer communication and information-oriented websites during crises than they
are on ofcial media sources, and thus that the advantage of Twitter as an information
channel is particularly salient in crisis communication.
Japan’s social media use and crisis communication
Given that Japan’s total population is about 127.3 million (Japan Statistical Yearbook,
2010), the country ranks high in terms of internet access (78.4 per cent of the total
population) and mobile phone use (89 per cent), and 95 per cent of mobile phone users
have 3G devices that enable users to easily access the internet and social networking
sites (Kaigo, 2011). In addition, Facebook and Twitter each receive approximately
15 million unique visitors every day (Kaigo, 2011). After the earthquake, however, more
Japanese users visited Twitter than usual (23 million in April 2012 vs 15 million in
August 2011). It is noteworthy that the Yahoo news reported that there were 5 million
fewer unique visitors in April than in March (http://research.web-marketing.in). The
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shift in the number of unique visitors indicates that Japanese users relied on social
media as a channel of crisis communication during the disaster.
During natural disasters, the government generally exerts crisis management
leadership. During Japan’s earthquake, however, some news articles highlighted the
central government’s lack of leadership and focused on efforts by individuals and
local communities (Japan’s Recovery, 2011). The mayor of Minamisoma, one of the
areas affected by the earthquake, provided local news through YouTube while blaming
NHK (a national broadcasting outlet) and the central government for delaying crisis
communication. Because the Japanese archipelago is prone to natural disasters such as
earthquakes and tsunamis, the Japanese government has maintained disaster-prevention
and emergency-management systems based on its experience with past events such as
Hanshin Awaji in 1995. For example, the Japanese government created the Department
of Disaster Prevention, which is afliated with the Prime Ministers Ofce, and has
implemented a wide range of security policies since 2002. In addition, the government
has encouraged local governments to strengthen their responsibility as rst responders
and established e-learning systems to educate employees on the use of communication
technologies and networks for disaster prevention and emergency management (Lee,
2006).
This raises the question of why, despite such disaster management efforts, the Japanese
government has been criticised. Some news articles and research papers reported that
peer-to-peer communication based on social media led crisis communication during the
earthquake, marginalising the mainstream media and the central government. According
to the Pew Research Center (2011), 66 per cent of news Twitter links on 11 March
2011 were related to Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, and these events were the week’s
top issue (7–11 March, 20 per cent of news links). Mashable, a website providing
statistic information on internet use, reported that the number of Twitter accounts
increased immediately after the earthquake (Taylor, 2011). Given the use of Twitter
immediately after the disaster, the assessment of the government’s initial management
may be claried through an analysis of government organisations’ Twitter accounts.
Theoretical framework
Information exchange and acquisition through social media
Previous studies generally have relied on self-reported data based on interviews (Perez-
Lugo, 2004; Palen et al., 2009), but the content analysis that Heverin and Zach (2010)
adopted has permitted researchers to provide detailed analyses of crisis communication
through social media. By analysing tweets about a rearms accident, Heverin and Zach
(2010) analysed the types of tweets that were posted most frequently during the crisis
and found that most (81 per cent) were information-related messages. In particular,
although the crisis involved a crime, most of the event-related messages were created by
ordinary users (91.5 per cent), not by the mainstream media or government organisations.
Therefore, this study adopts the content analysis method and extends the theoretical
perspective to crisis communication during Japan’s 2011 earthquake.
With this categorisation of message types, this study notes a substantial number
of information-related messages during the crisis. For instance, tweets – which are
limited to 140 characters – are not particularly effective in conveying comprehensive
information, and therefore users frequently include URLs in tweets to link to relevant
websites (Cho and Park, 2012). There are Twitter mash-up applications that help users
post longer messages by transforming the rest of the characters into a URL that guides
readers to a webpage, including the rest of the message content. Therefore, URLs in
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tweets typically include additional information. In this regard, this study analyses URLs
in posted messages for a better understanding of Twitter use during crises. Based on
the above discussion, we proposed the following research questions:
RQ1: What types of messages did ordinary Twitter users exchange during
Japan’s 2011 earthquake?
RQ2: What types of URLs did ordinary Twitter users rely on to obtain information
during Japan’s 2011 earthquake?
The role of traditional leadership in crisis communication through social media
Diverse forms and channels of information provided by government organisations
play an important role in establishing crisis-communication strategies. In particular,
the advent of social media has facilitated traditional leadership, including central and
local governments’ ofcial announcements, through the use of direct communication
with individuals in order to cope with weakened top-down communication structures in
crisis communication. When the source of a crisis is external, the public is more likely
to accept crisis strategies offered by traditional leaders in government organisations
instead of accommodative strategies. This is because the source of crisis information
is limited to only a few government agencies, and the public cannot secure sufcient
information to communicate with others in this case.
However, the unsuccessful management of social media by governments may be
a problem for countries and governments, not only at the national level but also at
the global one. For example, government organisations’ Twitter use as a channel of
one-way communication for citizens and the frequent posting of information-oriented
messages indicate that the ineffective use of Twitter by governments and politicians
is a global phenomenon (Otterbacher et al., 2013; Yoon and Park, 2013). Researchers
(Khan et al., 2013; Khan et al., 2013; Chung et al., 2013) argue that governments should
perceive the shift in the communication ow from linear models to networked ones
for successful government campaigns – that is, an increase in citizen communication
tends to challenge the credibility of governments and reduce the effectiveness of the
traditional information ow. By exploring Twitter use by the Japanese government
during the earthquake, this study proposed the following research question to extend
the literature on crisis communication through social media:
RQ3: How did government organisations make use of Twitter during Japan’s
earthquake?
Research design and methods
Because previous studies of social media use during a crisis typically have employed
in-depth interviews with those who directly experienced natural disasters and have
generally relied on self-reported data (Heverin and Zach, 2010; Palen et al., 2009;
Perez-Lugo, 2004), their analysis results may be limited to certain features of crisis
communication as a result of self-reported data. This study extends the literature on
crisis communication by providing a content analysis as well as a URL analysis of
tweets sent over a 40-hour period immediately after the crisis instead of relying on
self-reported data.
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Data collection and procedure
Messages created by ordinary Twitter users
We rst collected all messages in the Twitter public timeline (which shows all tweets
worldwide on a real-time basis) for 40 hours after Japan’s earthquake by using a
self-developed Twitter scrapper and then selected only those tweets from Japan by
using another self-developed program. For a random sample, we selected every tenth
tweet and ltered them before coding. We repeated this process until there were no
inappropriate tweets left to select. As a result, we collected a total of 568 tweets from
Japan. After 40 hours, the Twitter timeline returned to more or less regular tweets.
During the earthquake, some users living outside the immediate earthquake area posted
tweets daily. Finally, we divided the timeline into four ten-hour periods. As shown in
Table 1, the rst period that is, the rst ten hours after the earthquake included 112
tweets; the second period included 196 tweets; the third period included 141 tweets;
and the fourth period included 119 tweets.
Table 1: Japanese-character tweets during Japan’s earthquake by period
Period 1 Period 2 Period 3 Period 4 Total
Hours 1–10 11–20 21–30 31–40 40
Valid cases 112 196 141 119 568
Twitter use by the Japanese government
Despite the rapid growth of Twitter at the global level, the Japanese government made little
use of Twitter for communicating its public policies. The researcher manually collected
Twitter accounts of government organisations in Japan. It is noteworthy is that all these
organisations subscribed to Twitter immediately after the earthquake (see Table 2).
URL data
Using the sample of tweets, we identied those that included URLs guiding the
user to an information resource. URLs in tweets are generally regarded as additional
information resources. We collected a total of 53 URLs. Among these, 41 were
independent websites, and the rest were linked to third-party Twitter application pages
such as twitpic.com, which enabled users to upload and link pictures to their tweets.
We analysed the 41 URLs to websites.
Coding procedure
For the coding, two bilingual (Korean/Japanese) coders were trained to adhere to
a high level of coding standards. We employed the categories in Heverin and Zach
(2010) and then modied these categories, including additional categories because
of the different communication context. In Heverin and Zach’s (2010) study, all the
victims were killed, and Twitter users or third-party service users were potential victims.
By contrast, Japan’s earthquake involved huge numbers of survivors who directly
experienced the crisis. Accordingly, we included a category for tweets about personal
experiences to account for tweets by those from the earthquake area. In addition, we
changed the technology category to the technology/media category to emphasise the
changing media environment. For internal reliability, the coders independently assigned
multiple categories to each tweet for the rst 100 tweets. Because of a low level of
internal reliability, they repeated the same procedure and attained an acceptable level
of internal reliability (Cohen’s kappa=.69).
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Table 2: Twitter accounts of government organisations in Japan
Government
organisation
Sign-up date Tweets Listed Scrapped
Prime Minister 13 March 2011 926 19,160 0
E-government group
in the Ministry of
Internet Affairs and
Administration
15 March 2011 291 775 0
Ministry of Economy,
Trade and Industry
13 March 2011 266 917 0
Military (Disaster
Information)
19 March 2011 125 1,591 0
Maritime Self-
Defence Forces
29 March 2011 60 2,386 167
Ground Self-Defence
Forces
14 March 2011 200 8,238 0
Financial Services
Agency (East
Japan’s Earthquake
Information)
4 April 2011 48 94 0
Results
Tweets during Japan’s 2011 earthquake
As shown in Figure 1, tweets about personal experiences appeared most frequently
during the 40 hours immediately after the earthquake. Tweets containing opinions
appeared mainly during Period 4 (30–40 hours after the earthquake), indicating that
Twitter users were careful about forming and expressing opinions before adequately
comprehending the situation. Tweets with emotions focused on safety issues, fears and
concerns, and appeared most frequently during Period 1 and least frequently during
Period 4. In addition, a large number of emotional tweets were related to safety issues
during the initial stage. Once their safety was secured, Twitter users’ attention shifted
to other topics. This suggests that little information may induce emotional responses
during crises, and that when people have more information, they are less likely to be
concerned. Based on the number of tweets during the 40-hour period, tweets calling
for action followed those about personal experiences. These tweets called for personal
donations and information on donations. It is noteworthy that there was a substantial
increase in the number of such tweets from Period 1 to Period 4, whereas the number
of emotional tweets decreased sharply during the same period.
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Note: IF: Information-related; OP: Opinion-related; TM: Technology/media-related; EM: Emotion-
related; AC: Action-related; PE: Information based on personal experiences.
Figure 1: Types of tweets by period
URLs in tweets
We rst classied the 41 URLs according to the top-level domain (TLD) in tweets,
which refers to the highest hierarchical level of domain names on the internet. TLDs
include ‘.com’, ‘.net’, ‘.kr and ‘.jp’, among others. As shown in Table 3, most of the
URLs were for domestic websites in Japan. That is, the most frequent TLD was ‘.jp’.
This indicates that Twitter users in Japan relied mainly on domestic websites to obtain
information during the crisis. The second and third most frequent TLDs were ‘.com’
and ‘.net’, respectively. These TLDs represented domestic as well as international
websites, because these TLDs transcend national boundaries. It is noteworthy that
there was no TLD symbolising government organisations such as ‘.go.jp’ and ‘.gov’,
indicating that websites provided by government organisations were not considered
effective information channels during the crisis.
In addition, we analysed all 53 of the websites in tweets and classied them into
six categories: news channels, ofcial information channels, personal communication
channels, activities, commerce and others. Table 4 shows that fifteen websites
(28.4 per cent) were news channels and that eight URLs (15.2 per cent) provided ofcial
information on weather, survivors and transportation for the public. There was only one
website (1.9 per cent) providing earthquake-related information to foreigners living in
Japan. Although Twitter users generally relied on news and ofcial information channels,
they also used personal channels (38 per cent) to transmit a diverse range of content
generated by ordinary users, including video/photo-sharing sites, personal blogs and
online communities. These results are consistent with those of the content analysis for
tweets, indicating that Twitter facilitated the exchange of personal information between
users during the crisis, and suggesting that in the social media context, users tended
to rely more on user-generated content than other types of communication channels.
There was one fundraising site that was directly related to the crisis.
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Table 3: Frequency of TLDs in tweets
TLD Domains %
jp 22 53.7
com 11 26.8
net 4 9.8
tv 1 2.4
uk 1 2.4
org 1 2.4
biz 1 2.4
Total 41 100
Table 4: Types of URLs in tweets
Category Type (N (%) per each) N (%)
News channel 15 (28.4) News 15 (28.4)
Official information
channel
8 (15.2%) Weather
Information on earthquake
survivors
Transportation
Search engines
Disaster information for
foreigners
2 (3.8)
2 (3.8)
2 (3.8)
1 (1.9)
1 (1.9)
Personal channel 20 (38%) Video sharing
Personal blogs
Photo sharing
Online communities
7 (13.3)
7 (13.3)
4 (7.6)
2 (3.8)
Action 1 (1.9%) Fundraising 1 (1.9)
Commerce 5 (9.5%) Online bookstores
Internet shopping malls
3 (5.7)
2 (3.8)
Other 4 (7.6%) 4 (7.6)
Total 53 (100)
Crisis communication by the Japanese government through social media
Table 5 shows the results for Twitter accounts of government organisations in Japan,
which indicate that the earthquake drove the Japanese government to use Twitter to
communicate with the public because no central government organisation had a Twitter
account before the earthquake (see Table 2 above). The Twitter timeline of government
organisations clearly reveals their fundamental responsibilities in terms of responding
to disasters, sharing information on crises, providing energy security and implementing
anti-earthquake measures. The messages posted by government organisations were
related only to information on the earthquake itself. Although we attempted to analyse
and classify tweets into pre-coded categories, most repeated one-sided ofcial messages
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about the earthquake. Therefore, instead of an in-depth analysis, we summarised the
messages posted by each government organisation.
Table 5: Tweets by government organisations in Japan
Government organisations Message summary
Ofce of the Prime Minister Information on anti-earthquake measures; press
conference schedules; encouragements
E-government Group in the
Ministry of Internet Affairs and
Administration
No original tweets (re-tweeted other organisations’
tweets and played a role as an archive of earthquake-
related information provided by other organisations)
Ministry of Economy, Trade and
Industry
No information focused on the economy (provided
information on the earthquake, gas damage from the
earthquake, and the nuclear power plant)
Military (Disaster Information) Information on activities of the Japan Self-Defence
Forces and press conferences; photos of such activities
Maritime and Ground Self-
Defence Forces
Information on activities of the Japan Self-Defence
Forces; messages encouraging the public to share
information via the Twitter account
Financial Services Agency (East
Japan’s Earthquake information)
Information on nancial services (e.g. withdrawals,
insurance and loans); warnings of nancial fraud
With regard to the central government, for instance, the Ofce of the Prime Minister
used Twitter mainly to provide information on anti-earthquake measures and rally the
public. On the other hand, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry provided
information on special measures for controlling gas damage, aftershocks and nuclear
power plants rather than on economy-related topics. Local governments created Twitter
accounts immediately after the earthquake, and these were all in Ibaraki Prefecture, the
epicentre of the earthquake. Despite their short history, the Twitter accounts of these
governments attracted many Twitter users, indicating that the public was interested in
obtaining ofcial information on the earthquake from local governments. The number
of listed functions on Twitter evidences users’ great interest in information from
government organisations (see Table 2 above).
Discussion and conclusions
Social media allow users to effectively maintain latent and weak ties – that is, less
intimate social relationships – as well as strong ties – close relationships – and as a
result, people may perceive that they have broadened their social networks with crucial
information. As discussed earlier, Twitter played an important role in initiating search/
rescue operations, fundraising, providing emotional support, and creating, delivering
and sharing information during Japan’s 2011 earthquake. In particular, emotional tweets
appeared most frequently during Period 1 but decreased over time, which is consistent
with the ndings of Palen et al. (2009), who found that emotional messages (including
those about safety and welfare checks) occurred most frequently in the initial stages
of the Virginia Tech massacre on 16 April 2007.
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However, we note some differences between this study’s results and previous ndings.
In this study, emotional messages generally were directed towards unspecied users
for emotional support, not towards particular relationships in social networks, as in the
Virginia Tech massacre. This difference may be due to dissimilar characteristics of the
two crises. First, Japan’s earthquake was a nationwide crisis, whereas the Virginia Tech
crisis occurred within a university. Second, compared with the openness of Twitter in
Japan’s earthquake, the individuals involved in the Virginia Tech massacre were limited
mainly to specied relationships through social networking sites such as Facebook.
Twitter is open to both users and non-users, whereas some social networking sites allow
only selected users to access personal messages and information. The difference may
symbolise increasingly widening social networks in the era of social media as well as
the characteristics of events and media.
The results of the URL analysis indicate that no government sites (those with ‘.go.
jp’ or ‘.gov’) were involved in information delivery. Although the sizeable number of
Twitter users following government accounts indicates that the government did not lose
its traditional leadership role, its passive behaviour towards information distribution
– that is, one-way communication – implies that it adopted an inappropriate crisis-
communication strategy through social media as well as advocating the need to shift
the locus of crisis communication leadership. The analysis results also indicate that
news channels frequently were linked to one another, which is consistent with the
ndings of previous studies suggesting that Twitter functions mainly as an information
channel during crises. It is noteworthy that individual users tended to rely more on
sites providing peer-generated content – for example, video/photo-sharing sites, blogs,
and online communities – than on news channels. This indicates that in this era of
social media, individuals not only prefer peer-to-peer communication for recovering
from a crisis but also rely more on peer-generated resources than on traditional and
ofcial information resources.
The sizeable number of Twitter users following the Japanese government’s Twitter
accounts indicates that traditional information channels may retain their role as a
one-way communication channel, whereas peer-to-peer communication channels and
websites providing peer-generated content are likely to continue facilitating interactive
communication among individuals. Palen et al. (2009) suggest that social media may
decentralise the ow of communication and socially distribute the problem-solving
process. Generally providing support for the ndings of Palen et al. (2009), the results
of this study suggest that the government is likely to retain at least some aspects of its
traditional leadership role. That is, government organisations can secure and reinforce
their leadership in crisis communication by transforming their existing crisis-management
strategies into appropriate measures focusing on peer-to-peer communication based
on individual-level leadership. In this regard, future research should not only address
decentralised peer-to-peer communication, but also focus on how the traditional locus
of crisis communication can be transformed through social media.
Although this study offers important theoretical implications, it has some limitations.
First, we did not consider the cultural characteristics of Japan in addressing the
government’s lack of Twitter accounts. As represented by Meiwaku culture and
Confucianism (as a basis of East Asian collectivistic culture), Japanese people tend to
refrain from sharing personal or in-group information with outsiders and avoid potential
conicts. Second, we collected tweets posted during a 40-hour period immediately after
the earthquake. Given the long-term nature of the disaster, this 40-hour period may be
a limitation, although there were practical reasons for considering this period. Unlike in
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No. 149 — November 2013
previous studies of crisis communication mediated by social media, we did not employ
hashtags (a category of group Tweets) related to the earthquake because we considered
them to be less suitable for non-alphabet-based messages. Given these limitations, future
research should provide a clearer understanding of crisis communication by focusing
on its coordination and cooperation among citizens, media outlets and government
organisations because these three entities are likely to play critical roles in providing
an in-depth understanding of crisis communication driven by social media.
References
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Seong Eun Cho is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Cyber Emotions Research Center at YeungNam
University, South Korea.
Kyujin Jung is a Doctoral Student in the Department of Public Administration, University of North
Texas, United States.
Han Woo Park (corresponding author) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Media and
Communication, YeungNam University, South Korea.
... There is a vast literature that studies the information divide, polarisation, information warfare and its effect on society [28]. There is also extensive work looking at how social media is utilised during crises [9,13,14,26,29]. So far, the more significant focus of this research has been on detecting and analysing such phenomena in different societies. ...
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Social media is often used to disseminate information during crises, including wars, natural disasters and pandemics. This paper discusses the challenges faced during crisis situations, which social media can both contribute to and ameliorate. We discuss the role that information polarisation plays in exacerbating problems. We then discuss how certain mal-actors exploit these divides. We conclude by detailing future avenues of work that can help mitigate these issues.
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Journal of Contemporary Eastern Asia, Volume 10, No.1: 43-54 KWWS ��G[�GRL�RUJ����������MFHD��������������April/May 2011 |43 Communication and the Evolution of SNS: Cultural Convergence Perspective Keynote Speech at the International Conference on SNS (Social Networking Service) in honor of the 100
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